DEFRA?s Lead Ammunition Group (LAG), formed to investigate impacts surrounding the use of lead shot and bullets in England, met for the first time last week on Monday, 26 April.

On the same day, a study by scientists at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the RSPB entitled Potential Hazard to Human Health from Exposure to Fragments of Lead Bullets and Shot in the Tissues of Game Animals was published.

The publication of the study ? and timing of its release ? has been interpreted by shooting industry insiders as a clear indication the two charities sitting on the LAG intend to argue the case for a wider ban on lead shot within the Lead Ammunition Group on the grounds that lead ingestion may be harmful to human health, not simply on environmental or animal health grounds.

The question has also been raised over the motivation behind two wildlife conservation charities publishing a human health study such as this – when neither has the provision of science relating to human health within its charitable objects.

The study, led by the WWT?s Debbie Pain, who also sits on the Lead Ammunition Group, was co-authored by the RSPB?s Prof Rhys Green as well as scientists from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate in Surrey and the Institute of Biological Environmental Sciences at the University of Aberdeen.

It investigated whether lead derived from spent gunshot and bullets in the tissues of game animals could pose a threat to human health.

Staff from the WWT bought shot pheasant, partridge, pigeon, grouse, woodcock and mallard from game dealers, shoots and supermarkets and X-rayed them to determine the number of shot and shot fragments present, then cooked them using a number of typical recipes.

Shot was then removed, to mimic a typical consumer?s behaviour, and lead concentrations determined.

According to the authors, a high proportion of samples from both surveys had lead concentrations exceeding the European Union maximum level for meat from bovine animals, sheep, pigs and poultry.

The study?s conclusion was that: ?The potential health hazard from lead ingested in the meat of game animals may be larger than previous risk assessments indicated, especially for vulnerable groups, such as children, and those consuming large amounts of game.?

Responding to the publication of the study, the Countryside Alliance?s Tim Bonner said: ?The lead shot issue is a totemic one for all shooters and DEFRA is clear that it has no current policy on lead shot, which is why it is up to the LAG to take a view. With this in mind, we are saddened but not surprised to learn that the RSPB and the WWT have published their research on the very day the inaugural meeting took place.?

He added: ?You might well ask why charities dedicated to wildlife and habitat conservation have suddenly become so interested in the health of people who eat game, and you may well come to the conclusion that it has less to do with concerns about our health than an agenda set firmly against lead shot. If incontrovertible and peer-reviewed UK evidence of relevant environmental and health problems were to emerge, we would of course all act responsibly in seeking the adoption of high quality non-toxic humane and affordable alternatives. That is not the same as claiming that levels of lead in game ?may? pose a risk when there is no evidence whatsoever of any negative health impacts on any of us who actually eat game.?


The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and the RSPB have investigated the wider effects of lead for a number of reasons.

Principally, the ingestion of lead gunshot is one of the most important causes of death of wildfowl across Europe and the world where this ammunition continues to be used.

Lead ammunition also affects terrestrial birds, and is known to present a particular threat to scavenging species, such as some birds of prey, which may consume carcasses of animals containing fragments of lead bullets or shot.

New evidence demonstrating the extent to which lead bullets fragment on entering an animal, and the low-level of compliance with legislation restricting the use of lead shot over wetlands in England, indicates that lead poisoning from ammunition sources continues to pose an unnecessary threat to wildlife and therefore merits continued investigation.

WWT has a duty of care to better understand the risks that lead ammunition may pose to human health as well as to wetland wildlife as it advises communities on the sustainable use and management of wetland resources in the UK and overseas.

In addition, and as a major landowner where the shooting of deer happens on some nature reserves, RSPB has a duty of care to ensure that any venison coming from its landholdings and entering the food chain does not present a risk to public health.

We have therefore decided to phase out the use of toxic lead ammunition across our landholdings.

RSPB and WWT have collaborated with other organisations on the study reported in PLOS earlier this week as a contribution to the wider discussion that is now taking place between government, shooting and conservation stakeholders as to the risks posed by the continued use of lead ammunition and the need for appropriate risk management measures.

Talk to other readers about the possible ban on lead shot in our forums!

  • Hollaway

    Why does this magazine continue to attack BASC at every oppertunity on its lead shot policy ,its policy is the same as all of the other shooting organisations,it is starting to look like there is some sort of agenda against them.When i click on the home page of this site the first logo i see is the RSPB .

  • Roderick McCafferty

    The ingestion of lead shot by wildfowl was first partially researched in the 1950’s in America. The figures were extrapolated and stated that a large number of wildfowl died from plumbism, ie lead poisoning.That extrapolated number of poisoned wildfowl exceeded the entire population of wildfowl in America! These “facts” have been used ever since.
    Birds eat grit to grind up food and , I believe ,that their gut does not hold this grit long enough to contract illness.They also eat lead sourced from that grit as a “natural” material.
    Birds eating carrion have a very strong constitution unlike foxes which can die from ingesting fungal matter from dead flesh.
    Shot birds and ground game,ie rabbits are bound to contain lead shot which cannot be found in slaughtered stock such as cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry.So the comparison is inappropriate. The point seems to have been brought up by a lawyer to attempt to strenghten a spurious case. Plenty of people eat shot game, some of it barely cooked.I suggest undercooked food is more dangerous than the lead shot content. However people like to make their own choices about what they put into their own system. Smokers inhale cyanide and carbon monoxide. This is especially true if illegal tobacco is purchased as the tobacco leaf is cut on roofing sheet lead and contains a lot of cyanide.
    It is heart warming to think that the WWT and the RSPB are now concerned about my private welfare. I doubt they eat anything that has been shot with lead, so they won’t have any problems. Perhaps the laws on archery should be rescinded and we can then safely use bows and to arrows to humanely kill deer as Henry the Eighth did. We can also use the blunt arrows used to shoot wildfowl which came to the village ponds in times gone by, to provide winter meat.
    Lastly the RSPB can snare their own “tern killing” foxes, using snares or cage traps, instead of employing BASC shooters to humanely kill these predators with appropriate centre fire rifles.
    The government has been happy to see game meat sales grow rapidly due to the efforts of game managers and shooters.They certainly have banked the tax revenue quickly enough in their government coffers.Perhaps DEFRA does not work for the same government?

    That is all I can say for now.


  • Flagg

    Well said Iasgair. without peer reviewing and publication in well known journals (with decent impact factor) it’s more opinion than science!

  • Simon Mansell

    As neither has the provision of science relating to human health within its charitable objects they they are in breach of their charitable objectives and should be reported to the Charity Commission for breach of trust. The trustees one assumes could then be held personally responsible for the cost of this venture into areas where they have no authority to go. I trust BASC has made the appropriate representations? The anti lead issue is being used as a backdooor attack on our sport and in turn we must use similar tactics. They are wide open for counter attack – can we please have some action?

  • leadbelly

    Since a lot of the game eaten is done so by shooting or country sports enthusiasts perhaps the RSPB and WWT would let us do so in peace to our own demise. After all they don’t want us to shoot anything anyway, and it could be another way of getting rid of us! Or am I being just a bit too cynical? It’s a pity they don’t have anything better to do.

  • Iasgair

    This so called RSPB and WWT science is already flawed.

    It is lead oxide (not shot or bullets) which is dangerous and that takes time to form.
    Lead shot passes through humans far too quickley to create oxide i.e. in less than 36hours.
    Also game birds GET SHOT before ingested shot can even become a remote problem.

    Have the RSPB and WWT “Research Findings” been PEER REVIEWED and widely PUBLISHED in order that a broad cross section of scientists have been able to comment ?

    NO ?
    I thought not!