Saturday 9 December 2023


Day 160 #365DaysWild

Banning of poisonous lead ammunition

Tom Heap interviewed Liam Stokes, CEO of British Game Assurance,  on BBC Countryfile broadcast on Sunday 12 December 2021. His industry has been granted a voluntary scheme which sees lead shot being ‘phased out’ by 2025. He wasn’t put through the wringer.

Hen pheasants with chicks

We were told that tests have shown 179 out of 180 game birds tested contained poisonous lead shot. In law there is no maximum limit of lead in game and no safe limit of lead for humans.

Across the North Sea the EU widely uses steel shot - not lead.

Stokes asserted that game is ‘local’. It isn’t.

Over 27 million hatching eggs or poults of partridges and pheasants were imported into the UK from EU countries in 2019.

He asserted that it is ‘sustainable’. It isn’t.

6000 tons of lead are used in shooting each year. The shot not penetrating birds is scattered across wetlands and farmlands.

55 million pheasants are released into the British countryside each year - greater than the weight of all our songbirds. The inhumane consequence of this massive release is that many pheasants  are killed or maimed on our roads. During shoots, many birds are not killed outright. The presence of this huge number of pheasants leads to excess numbers of pheasant predators e.g. foxes, crows, rats, badgers, magpies. The effects of releases of pheasants on invertebrates are considerable. Clearly, the unregulated release of such a massive number of birds does not mesh with steps to control avian flu and its possible crossover to humans. 

That protected species such as woodcock and snipe can and are shot legally as ‘game’ in the UK is impossible to understand.

Grouse shooting is as far from ‘sustainable’ as can be imagined. It is largely undertaken on an industrial scale with intensively-reared and released birds on driven grouse moors. This monoculture is associated with illegality- especially illegal raptor persecution and the catastrophic decline  of hen harriers.

Stokes also spoke of trees being planted. Tree cover is planted for pheasants. However, through systematic burning, the driven grouse industry eradicates trees creating barren moors with consequent effects on water retention and flooding downstream.

The intervening years until the voluntary ban could lead to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary bird deaths attributed to ingesting lead shot according to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. One in four migratory swans die of lead poisoning.

Lead shot and the ‘legal’ shooting of endangered birds should be banned immediately.

The impact of the release of millions of game birds is demonstrably detrimental to biodiversity in our countryside as well being inhumane and having clear risks to public health.

Influential vested interests advocate for the shooting business- worth £68 million pa and rising.

The echoes of those previously advocating for the tobacco or oil industries are uncomfortable. 

The shooting industry is not ‘sustainable’. 


Consultation on lead ammunition closes at midnight Sunday evening.

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