‘No excuses’: 2024 phase out of lead shot possible with regulatory intervention, says report

Regulatory controls will be needed to “secure a full phase out” of lead shot, according to a new report, which says despite claims to the contrary there are no substantial obstacles to banning the use of the toxic ammunition for game hunting in the UK by 2024.

Lead shot has historically been the ammunition of choice for game hunters, with some guns made specifically to carry it. 

 However, it is also known to be a risk to both human and wildlife health, with lead pollution killing up to 100,000 waterbirds a year in the UK, and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) currently consulting on a proposed restriction on lead ammunition, after the UK REACH process identified it as posing an “unacceptable risk” to both the environment and human health.  

The consultation proposals include a ban on the sale and use of lead shot cartridges in hunting, with a phase out period of 18 months. The government is expected to make a decision on the proposals in 2023. 

Despite this, moves to bring in a compulsory ban by 2024 have been resisted by some - but not all - with quarters of the hunting lobby claiming that supply problems with steel mean this phase out date is too early to be feasible. They also claim that the use of steel shot and other alternatives inhibits the experience of game shooters when compared to lead, and so demand for non-toxic shot would be limited.

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However, a new technical report published today for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Lead Ammunition, written by the Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL) and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, has found that there should be no substantial supply obstacles affecting a full phase out of lead shot for hunting, and that it could be achieved by 2024.

“There is currently a supply of effective and affordable alternatives to lead shot in Great Britain, with around 20% of shot cartridges on sale online from leading GB manufacturers now being non-toxic,” reads the report, adding that this increase in supply has likely been fuelled by a range of pledges from retailers to stop selling game meat shot with lead, as well as by a voluntary commitment to phase out lead from shooting organisations such as the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWTC), and by the development of proposals to legally restrict the use of lead ammunition in the EU and Northern Ireland.  

While the international steel market saw supply issues in 2021, the report says that these same problems are “unlikely to inhibit the expansion of steel shot products to meet the increased demand that will follow from regulation”. 

However, the report authors note that based on the experience of European countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands, the implementation of regulation is “the critical step needed” to encourage more demand, and to secure a complete transition from lead.

Lord Browne of Ladyton, co-chair of the lead ammunition APPG said that the environmental, welfare, and human health grounds for a lead shot ban are “overwhelming”. 

“We reject the idea of toxic substances in our food usually, meat from gamebirds should be no exception. Today’s report shows that the supply of non-toxic shot for hunting is increasing and is likely to grow yet faster following the announcement of regulation. With the evidence clear, the government should get on and swiftly deliver a ban by the end of 2024, to stop lead shot polluting our environment, poisoning animals and risking the health of people who eat game.”

Matt Browne, head of policy and advocacy at WCL added for decades that the UK has banned lead in the paint, and in the pipes that supply water, and questioned why the country is “still allowing lead to pollute our countryside”.  

“With cheaper, non-toxic alternatives out there, and the market already shifting, today’s report shows there are no excuses to delay a ban on this outdated product.’’

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