By Alastair Balmain
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
The UK’s biggest shooting group backs the use of lead shot - but behind the scenes does it believe lead’s time is up?
Has BASC given up on lead shot?
"In light of the growing evidence of problems with lead ammunition the committee believes the use of lead ammunition in shooting and stalking is becoming increasingly unsustainable."
The committee in question is BASC’s Research Advisory Committee and the quotation is taken directly from the minutes of its meeting on 18 November last year.
Whether or not you, the UK’s shooters, are similarly fatalistic about the use of lead shot (or realistic depending on your point of view), no doubt there will be a degree of concern that the Research Advisory Committee of the UK’s largest shooting organisation should arrive at such a conclusion.
The subject of lead shot has hit the consciousness of the wider shooting public in recent weeks following the announcement last month that DEFRA has established a Lead Ammunition Group to investigate issues surrounding its use.
That group will be chaired by BASC’s chief executive John Swift, and the first meeting takes place later this month on 26 April.
In public, the UK’s largest shooting organisation has been staunch in its support of lead ammunition, telling its members and the wider shooting community that it will "oppose any unwarranted restriction on lead shot", adding that "restrictions must be science-based and proportionate".
The association has also highlighted the fact that the Lead Ammunition Group includes a number of pro-shooting representatives from BASC, the Countryside Alliance and the Gun Trade Association.
So far so positive. However, those who believe in lead’s superior ballistic performance, use an older non-steel proofed gun and have been eating lead-shot game for years should note that DEFRA’s group also includes representatives from bodies not warmly disposed to lead.
These include the RSPB, which recently banned lead ammunition on its reserves, and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.
A PRAGMATIC POLICY
BASC’s policy on lead shot is pragmatic rather than defiant. It hasn’t adopted a Charlton Heston-style hard-line strategy - the last traditional game cartridge in the country won’t be prised reluctantly from John Swift’s cold, dead hands - but conversely there is increasing evidence BASC has effectively accepted that lead ammunition is on borrowed time.
In the minutes from the aforementioned Research Advisory Committee’s meeting - leaked last week to Shooting Times by a concerned BASC member - the committee agreed the following recommendation should be made to BASC’s Council:
"In light of the growing evidence of problems with lead ammunition the committee believes the use of lead ammunition in shooting and stalking is becoming increasingly unsustainable. As a result of the growing and external pace of change the committee recommends that council prepares members and other shooters for early change away from lead ammunition. The committee also recommends that the deer committee gives urgent attention to the problems of lead bullets."
Within the same document it is recorded that the chairman of the committee, Michael Alldis, owner of Essex Shooting School, wisely urged "caution with regard to political implications of changing from lead ammunition, including effects on the membership, and urged BASC to proceed with care."
It is also recorded that the committee "generally felt that more information needed to be given to members through the magazine (Shooting & Conservation) on issues relating to lead ammunition, including contamination of game."
As an action point arising from the meeting it was recorded that the committee’s chairman should "recommend to Council in January  that bans on lead ammunition are anticipated sooner rather than later and that members should be prepared for early change."
The minutes of the Research Advisory Committee, including their rather stark statements on the future of lead shot, were noted by BASC’s Council at its meeting on 21 January this year.
The Council minutes don’t record whether the association is now acting on the Research Advisory Committee’s advice and preparing members for an inevitable switch to non-lead shot.
In the March/ April issue of BASC’s in-house Shooting & Conservation magazine, however, the association’s director of research Dr John Harradine, who sits on the Research Advisory Committee, wrote an article on non-toxic shot titled Price and Prejudice.
That article explored the substitutes for lead and how to get the best out of them.
A timely coincidence?
And if UK shooters are being groomed to enjoy their sport without lead shot, what evidence of lead’s unsustainability is being employed to justify that decision?
SCIENCE FROM ABROAD
BASC is correct that there is increasing pressure relating to the use of lead shot. Ingestion of lead by wildlife and humans as well as the impact of lead on the environment are the subjects of a growing body of scientific work.
Most of it, however, has been conducted overseas - notably in the US - and defenders of lead shot point to the fact that the majority of the science is driven by an anti-lead agenda.
If readers would like to see for themselves much of the science that will inform the discussions of the Lead Ammunition Group, visit www.peregrinefund.org/Lead_conference
There you will find the proceedings of a conference convened by the Peregrine Fund, a US-based raptor conservation group.
The conference took place in Idaho and drew delegates with an interest in lead shot and conservation from all around the globe.
These included BASC’s John Harradine, the RSPB’s Mark Avery and the WWT’s Deborah Pain - all of whom will sit on the Lead Ammunition Group.
BASC has rightly stated it was important for a shooting representative to attend the conference in order to keep abreast of the science being debated - no other UK shooting group sent a delegate.
A question remains though.
Given what shooters have seen in recent publications from BASC, and given the recommendations of BASC’s Research Advisory Committee, has the body of existing scientific evidence on lead and the proceedings of a conference entitled Ingestion of Lead from Spent Ammunition: Implications for Wildlife and Humans left BASC convinced a total ban on lead ammunition is now inevitable?
In short, will BASC truly put up a real fight - or has it bowed to the inevitable?
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