Call for lead shot ban to protect wildfowl

Partial restrictions and voluntary initiatives have failed – it’s time to ban the use of all lead shot as ammunition, say conservationists.

Paralysis of this whooper swan's legs, caused by lead poisoning, forced it to use its wings for propulsion, resulting in the mud on its carpal joint, as shown here.

New research released today has backed up the demands of conservationists that the use of lead shot as ammunition should be completely banned in the UK by the end of 2017.


One study shows that 100,000 swans, geese and ducks are estimated to die every year from ingesting lead shot, while in separate research, 77 per cent of ducks purchased from game suppliers were illegally killed using lead.

The current situation in the UK is complex. Lead ammunition has been banned in England since 1999 for use over foreshores and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, as well as for shooting all ducks, geese, coots and moorhens. Similar restrictions apply in Wales, but the situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland is different.

Conservation groups argue that this partial ban hasn’t worked – that’s partly because ducks, geese and swans feed on fields where lead shot may be legally used, and they mistake it for natural grit or seeds, but also because some shooters break the law and use it over wetlands.

“We believe there is now no practical option left, short of phasing out lead ammunition,” said the chief executive of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Martin Spray.

Shooting organisations oppose a total ban on the use of lead shot. They say that the risks it presents have either not been proven, or are not sufficiently serious, to justify further restrictions, that a ban could damage the rural economy and that those in favour of it simply dislike all shooting sports.

A statement on the websites of the British Association of Conservation and Shooting says, “All the UK’s major shooting organisations have come together in a campaign to combat the threat to lead ammunition. Their message is simple: if you want to keep lead, keep to the law.”

Scientific research has also highlighted the risk to human health from ingesting lead shot when eating wildfowl. Somewhere between 4,000-48,000 children “could be at potential risk of a one point reduction in IQ or more as a result of current levels of exposure to ammunition-derived dietary lead,” according to WWT.


The Lead Ammunition Group (LAG) was formed in 2013 to advise the Government on “the impacts of lead ammunition on wildlife and human health”

The Oxford Lead Symposium brought together a range of independent scientists to consider the impacts of lead shot on wildlife and people


Main image: Paralysis of this whooper swan’s legs, caused by lead poisoning, forced it to use its wings for propulsion, resulting in the mud on its carpal joint, as shown here.