The government is now considering a lead ammunition ban under the UK’s new chemical regulation system – UK REACH– and has requested an official review of the evidence to begin today with a public consultation in due course.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Addressing the impacts of lead ammunition will mark a significant step forward in helping to protect wildlife, people, and the environment. This is a welcome development for our new chemicals framework, and will help ensure a sustainable relationship between shooting and conservation.”

Dr Julia Newth, Ecosystem Health & Social Dimensions Manager at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), said: “Conservationists, including WWT, shooting organisations and game meat retailers have recognised the toxic risks from lead ammunition to people and the environment. Regulation of its use in all shooting, wherever this may happen, is very much needed as soon as possible to protect human and animal health and to enable us to move towards a greener and safer future.”

The Environment Agency, together with the Health and Safety Executive, will now start a two-year process to review the evidence, conduct a public consultation and propose options for restrictions.

Lead poisoning

Defra says that research by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust shows that between 50,000 to 100,000 wildfowl die in the UK each year due ingesting lead from used pellets. Despite being highly toxic, wildfowl often mistake the pellets for food. Animals that predate on wildfowl can also suffer.

Lead ammunition in England is currently prohibited on all foreshores in England, in or over specified SSSIs (predominately wetlands) and for the shooting of all ducks and geese, coot and moorhen. The plans announced today will consider phasing out the use of lead ammunition across all environments across England, Scotland and Wales.

Five year transition

In response to the government announcement Ian Bell, chief executive of British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), said: “The UK’s leading shooting organisations are already engaged in a voluntary five-year transition away from lead shot for live quarry shooting. Cartridge companies are developing new products but producing the amount of non-lead ammunition required for the UK with the current production facilities is a significant challenge. “Continued engagement with the shooting organisations is critical to ensure any proposals are proportionate, feasible and enforceable.”

Many shooters supportive

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has been running an online survey which suggests that many shooters are already embracing change. Interim results show the majority intend to move away from lead within the next shooting season. Of more than 2,500 respondents, more than 20% have started testing alternatives such as steel and bismuth. In addition to this, a further 28% plan on testing the alternatives when the shooting season starts this autumn. GWCT director of policy, Dr Alastair Leake says: “If Government wishes to speed up the transition, it might consider an amnesty scheme for those stuck with a supply of lead cartridges. Recycling lead is energy-efficient and conserves natural resources, so it’s worth some thought.” You can make your views known by participating in the survey here .  

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