There has been widespread talk of a lead shot ban in the UK for a very long time. Those of us who hoped it would go away when the Lead Ammunition Group appeared discredited and its findings were rejected by the Cameron Government have not had to wait long for the subject to rise into view once more.
It may be that market forces rather than legislation inflict the first injuries.
A recent article in The Guardian illustrates what pressure is being brought to bear on the shooting industry by market forces, notably the food industry.
It follows an announcement by supermarket Waitrose that it is phasing out sales of game shot with lead. It says:
‘By the 2020-21 shooting season, all Waitrose’s game will be “brought to bag” without the use of lead ammunition.
John Gregson, Waitrose’s senior manager of agri-food communications, said: “We expect high standards from our game suppliers and have been really pleased with their support.”
John Swift, a former chief executive of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) who chairs the Lead Ammunition Group, welcomed Waitrose’s move, but said the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs must take action to phase out lead shot.
“Waitrose deserve huge congratulations and they are showing real leadership and we need more of it,” he said. “The only way we can get rid of all these risks is to replace lead ammunition. Defra has got to pull its finger out and get the stakeholders around the table discussing the way forward.”
According to Swift, tradition and a fear that banning lead shot is an attack on the shooting industry is stopping Britain’s shooting groups from backing a transition to non-toxic shot. He said the number of different shooting organisations had not helped, with rival bodies worried they would be caught “on the wrong side of the argument”.
He said: “There is an attitude nowadays that anything that potentially restricts countryside sports is an attack on countryside sports, so the wagons circle and the attack has to be repelled. That prevents them from engaging constructively with a process of change, which strikes me as eminently doable.”
The EU is considering a Europe-wide ban on lead ammunition for shooting game such as wildfowl on wetlands. Lead shot is banned on all wetlands in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In England and Wales, there is a ban on using lead shot to shoot wildfowl and for shooting on foreshores and on sites of special scientific interest, but research in England has found that more than 70% of ducks were shot with lead.
Debbie Pain, an independent ecological toxicologist and honorary research fellow at Cambridge University who has studied the effects of lead shot for nearly 40 years, also welcomed Waitrose’s move. “It’s a game-changer. Having a supermarket of game that is lead-free is a really positive move in the right direction, which is fantastic.
“It’s never been anti-shooting, it’s always been anti-poisoning. Shooting needs to be as sustainable as it can be. Killing large numbers of birds through poisoning is not a good idea, particularly when it puts people who frequently eat lead shot game at risk – and those people are mostly from the hunting community.
“You talk to young shooters in Denmark now and they’ve never used lead shot in their whole lives and they can’t understand why anyone would shoot a poisonous substance into an animal and then eat it.”
If other food outlets join Waitrose in rejecting lead-shot game, then shoots will have no choice but to insist that their Guns arrive with non-toxic loads, which means steel if affordability is going to be a factor.
I have spoken to shooters in Belgium and they detest steel; it rips the flesh and causes more bleeding than lead shot as well as being less immediately lethal, leading to more lost birds and more suffering. They have no choice but to use it. That does not mean they like it.’
The grim reality of the situation we are facing is that lead ammunition may well no longer be available to British sportsmen in as little as two years.
It may be that the market dictates a majority change that will not affect the minority of birds shot by the majority of shooting men in the UK. If the supermarkets won’t take lead-shot game and commercial shoots enforce a no-lead policy, legislation for personal consumption by small syndicate and walked-up shooters may be redundant.
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on