Guest blog – Ban toxic lead ammunition by Rob Sheldon

7V92hZG4_400x400Rob Sheldon is a freelance conservationist. He has worked in nature conservation for almost 20 years, including 12 years with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Since 2013, he has been the Chairman of the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, The Caucasus and Central Asia (OSME). Most recently he has worked for the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) as the Director of the King Khalid Wildlife Research Centre (KKWRC) in Saudi Arabia.

The petition to ban the use of toxic lead ammunition has been running for a little over 3 months now, so we’re half way through the allotted time period. The petition closes on the 4th May. When I was pondering whether to start the petition, I wanted to define what a successful outcome would be.

I was under no illusion that we would reach the ultimate target of a debate in parliament. This would require nothing short of a miracle. At the end of the petition period would the use of toxic lead ammunition be banned in the UK – certainly not. I set two targets which I, and a few people who I consulted, thought were achievable. Firstly, getting to 10,000 signatures, and eliciting a response from the Government seemed a challenge but was certainly achievable. Personally, I was delighted when we reached this target on the 11th of January. To get there, the petition has received support from a range organisations and individuals. Notably from the excellent Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), who had sent a direct email to their supporters asking them to support the petition. You can never really tell how much impact one email can have on signature gathering, but I do check the petition most evenings, and record the number of signatures. From the data I’d suggest that the WWT email added at least 2000 signatures to the petition. Impressive but this still only represents about 1% of their members.

The RSPB have sent a few tweets via Twitter and following the publication of the proceedings of the Oxford Lead symposium, the Conservation Director, Martin Harper, blogged about the lead issue and included a link to the petition. I was less clear what the impact of these were on petition signatures, but it surely helped. If I had to make a guess, I’d say that a further 1000 signatures may have been added through this promotion. This equates to not more than 0.1% of the RSPBs growing membership. I specifically mention WWT and RSPB as the phase out of lead ammunition is the stated policy of both organisations. The Wildlife Trusts too, have promoted the issue of lead ammunition through a blog , and subsequent links via social media, but I can’t even hazard a guess at the impact that these have had on numbers. And of course, Mark Avery and this blog has promoted the issue for a number of years , and has been especially supportive throughout the period the petition has been running.

A couple of key events clearly added signatures too. The publication of the proceedings of the Oxford Lead symposium and the resulting stories in the press, especially a BBC article, bought the attention of lead ammunition to people who were previously blissfully unaware of the issue. A Westminster Hall debate on lead ammunition was proposed by Gerald Jones, Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney, and created more ‘excitement’ on social media. So this brings me to the second of my targets for the petition, creating more awareness of the issue of lead ammunition and the impact it has on wildlife and health. I won’t re-iterate the well-trodden rationale for the banning of toxic lead ammunition, it has been very well explained on this blog , and the proceedings of the Oxford Lead symposium makes the case clearly. However, I’d suggest that ‘our’ petition has helped raise awareness, although I certainly can’t quantify that. And I’d say that this blog should take a huge amount of credit for raising that awareness too. Rules Restaurant must certainly be aware of the issue now, and do you think Iceland Foods will sell grouse later this year? I doubt we’ll ever know how many of the almost 11,500 signatures knew about toxic lead ammunition before the petition was launched, but even if just a few percent are now more aware, then I’d say that is a success.

One may also consider it a success that upon launching the petition to ban toxic lead ammunition, a ‘counter’ petition was established to keep lead. To date, this has reached more than 23,000 signatures. Let’s think about that, twice as many people want to keep poisoning our wildlife, our environment and our food, than don’t!! It’s a funny old world.

So what next? We’ve certainly achieved one of my initial targets, and probably helped with the other. Where would I like the petition to be on the 4th May? Could we overhaul the ‘counter’ petition? At this stage such a target seems unfeasible, but I’d like to think it could be done. It would require increased promotion from our NGOs, from local bird clubs and wildlife groups. More sharing on Facebook, more Tweeting on Twitter, more chatting down the pub. The story to ban lead ammunition in the UK has been ongoing for more than 30 years, if you’d like to be part of that story, then send a few Tweets, share on Facebook, ask your friends and family to sign the petition, and ask your NGOs to continue to speak out against toxic lead ammunition. To borrow a phrase from this blog – WE WILL WIN.

Please support the ban of toxic lead ammunition by signing this UK Government e-petition

Follow me on Twitter @_robsheldon


19 Replies to “Guest blog – Ban toxic lead ammunition by Rob Sheldon”

  1. Just signed your petition and will forward same.
    Thanks for all your hard work on this.
    Yes, it’s very odd to think that there is parallel petition for keeping lead and that it’s doing so well.
    Perhaps this sociopathic campaign should be publicised more; it’s the sort of information that gets otherwise complacent people to react and do something about it.


      A parallel thought.
      Take heart from Friedrich Accum’s victories against the tyrannies of the Victorian food industry (especially the way he brought to public notice the wickedness of decorating children’s sweets with red lead oxide).
      If he was able to succeed back then, there is every chance your campaigns will win against our modern adulterators of the environment.

      Agree. The PRSPB is key.

  2. That the RSPB have not come out fully against the use of lead is the strangest part of this whole petition. And very concerning.
    Normally they only contact members when they want money, but a few weeks ago, they sent out emails to all their members asking for support of the ‘Nature Directives’ so it proves that it can be done. They also made it very easy to write to our MEPs on the issue.
    Of course, it isn’t the case that more people want to harm wildlife than not, simply that the ‘other side’ are much more organised.
    As I’m not a member of any of these organisations, I don’t know how the 23,000 votes was achieved, but I imagine emails were involved.
    People are aware that lead is a poison. People are aware that it has been removed from our water pipes, petrol and paint for this very reason. They are not aware that shooters are still allowed to use lead, unlike fishermen, who had to stop using it years ago.
    Why? Simple. So few people shoot. Why should they be aware. And if the RSPB and Wildlife trusts won’t help to get the message out there, I’m at a loss as to how we can achieve the votes we would surely get if people were properly informed.
    There is another baffling thing in this. How come the Robs petition lags so far behind the number of votes achieved for DGS? I would have thought if you’ve signed one petition, you would automatically sign the other. Can anyone out there tell me why this wouldn’t be the case?
    Lastly, why is it that shooters refuse to change. I asked this question a couple of months ago on this blog and received no replies even though it was evident that shooters were reading the blog. It surely can’t be cost alone. Is it maybe that they think it the thin end of the wedge?
    Mike Clarke needs to be asked the direct question from somebody high up in conservation ‘why will you not support this petition’. Any volunteers?

    1. Review memberships of NGOs as this blog encouraged us to do.

      I had been hoping to join / re-join a few but have seen nothing to encourage me to do so. So I shall carry on making specific donations to lesser (more effective) organisations for issues they’ve acted on that I support.

      More for less, but in the interim it is not good that the lead toting predators see conservationists divided.

      Is there a journalist prepared to look at why 23,000 shooters want to be allowed to continue poisoning the environment?

      BASC challenge the Oxford symposium findings reporting it as exaggerated and distorted by non-medically qualified speakers. So their 140k membership potential supporters? Unable to find a GWCT position statement on lead ammunition yet ….

    2. “Lastly, why is it that shooters refuse to change. I asked this question a couple of months ago on this blog and received no replies…”

      As I understand it there are three lines of argument – (i) superior ballistics of lead shot compared to alternatives leading to fewer birds being hit but not immediately killed, (ii) alternative materials causing damage to gun barrels and (iii) higher cost of alternative materials.

      To my mind argument (i) is potentially the most convincing – if we remove one problem for wild bird populations by simply causing another then we are not really making progress. However, I understand that studies conducted in Denmark (where all lead shot has been banned since 1993) and elsewhere do not support the assertion that alternative types of ammunition lead to higher rates of non fatal wounding of birds. The experience of Denmark was summarised in one of the papers at the Oxford Lead Symposium referred to in Rob’s blog post and concluded that wounding rates were not worse with non lead ammo.

      Argument (ii) and (iii) relate to costs imposed on the shooter. Well, if it is more expensive to shoot game in an environmentally acceptable way then that is just tough luck I would say. There are plenty of things in life that would be cheaper if we didn’t have to take account of potential harm to other people, the environment, etc but we generally accept that these costs are part and parcel of civilized cohabitation of the world we live in. I would also add that, as far as I understand it (and I acknowledge I am not expert in the matter) damage to shotgun barrels is not inevitable and can in most cases be avoided.

      The conclusion of the paper on the Danish experience is that the total ban on the use of lead shot did not have any damaging effect on hunters’ interests.

      Of course, the resistance of the shooting community here in the UK to a ban on lead shot is likely to be based not only on specific arguments about the pros and cons of one type of ammunition or another but also on a reluctance to accept any change imposed on its customs and practices. As you mention, such changes may indeed be perceived as the thin end of a wedge.

  3. I plucked up courage to ask my life long friend, a wildfowler and rough shooter, what his view on the lead ammunition was. I hadn’t wanted to risk an upsetting argument between friends, with someone I learnt so much birding and wildlife skill with as a youngster. Now he is also is a very canny fellow, careful with his cash and his equipment and someone who’s opinion I have always valued.
    I was impressed that he was right behind it, as a wildfowler he’d changed years ago and found no negative impact on his shooting, no problem in adapting to ballistics – indeed he’d been favourably surprised. He had no grouse ( no bad pun intended ) with non lead shot and if anyone was going to complain he would have not held back!
    His only complaint was the Scottish / English variation which means that if he is shooting pigeons away from water, on lead shot, he can’t take a shot at a passing mallard without changing to non lead – in England!

  4. Countryfile, on primetime BBC TV, has eight million viewers apparently. Last night an item was shown about the training of the next generation of gamekeepers. The personable Matt Baker trotted out all the positive spin: two billion pounds value to the economy; 74,000 employees; excellent care of the environment; wonderful natural produce to eat round the fire; increasing numbers of birds (demonstrated by pictures of robins, bullfinches, grey partridge etc.). There were pleasant young people working hard in the countryside, not at all unlike those you meet working for the wildlife trusts, BTO, RSPB etc. Matt said how wonderful it was that a young woman trainee was receiving her first gun as an eighteenth birthday present, so lucky. Absolutely no questions about raptor and predator control or the use of lead ammunition. Eight million, minus a few of us, unaware of the whole picture.

    How about a right of reply, Mark or Chris Packham?

  5. & remind me that folk were pleased she was on the new E4 something or other!

    I’m getting to the point where Countryfile is another ‘review’, particularly their failure to mention upland management for grouse being ‘potentially’ damaging to flood alleviation.

    They also said deer culling was necessary, whilst conveniently forgetting to mention artificially high numbers for sport. Whatever happened to balanced debate, general public will have watched through those rose tinted screens again ….

    Monbiot tried in a fashion & Matt Baker might be gagged? Yorkshire Post is another ‘establishment’ media promotional tool.

    Perhaps feed back comments via their website, then again ….

  6. I suspect that BASC and CA are against changing from lead ammunition 9 which is an absolute must for a whole host of reasons) because they are so paranoid that they see the suggestion of any change as an attack on their bloody sport (pun intended). Countryfile has become a mouth piece for the NFU/ BASC/ Countryside Areliars. According to last night game keepers spend most of their time doing conservation work—- as an eloquent Liverpudlian put —– MY ARSE.

  7. Thanks for your work on this, Rob.

    Congratulations on getting the petition above the 10K trigger point.

    It’s certainly encouraged me to find out more on the topics. As someone trained in pesticide application and handling (amngst other things) and the allowable dosaage rates per ha for different chemicals, with so much having been (rightly) removed from ‘domestic’ use, I find it bewildering that there’s all this COSSH regulation on (nitrile-gloved) hand whilst the other is allowed to merrily poison the land and what lives on it.

    Here’s to the next 10,000 and getting the debate into women’s magazines, Local Nature Partnerships’ (remember them) agendas and even onto Countryfile.

    I wonder what Jack Hargreaves’ view would have been.

  8. Strange how so many think the CA & BASC are involved in my petition to save lead ammunition. Also strange how with a few shares on FB I got 22k signatures in less than a month.
    I must share again soon to get more hunting folk to sign up.

  9. It’s hilarious seeing Andy Richardson spread his waffling garbage on the internet… It’s also rather amusing to see him post wonderful, mysterious nonsense on social media. Usually around midnight when he has had quite a few “tipples” and then delete them in the morning. But wait – your a game keeper arnt you? Must be hard work with a hangover every day. Lies always surface!

Comments are closed.