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The future of lead shot: the threats that lie ahead

Robin Scott is not reassured by the shooting organisations’ response to the Health and Safety Executive’s recent pronouncement on the future of lead shot

clay pigeon shooting

The Health and Safety Executive is also taking a close look at clay pigeon shooting grounds

Many thought that by leaving the European Union the UK would be freed from the shackles of mega-state bureaucracy and win back the ability to set its own laws. In short, paddle our own canoe again. Well …

Yes, small gains have been made since we cast adrift from the Continent, but as the potentially game-changing lead shot review being undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) clearly proves, we’re still merrily dancing to the union’s tune. All thanks to agreements and protocols signed during our term of membership. (Read more on the EU is moving towards an outright ban on lead shot.)

The future of lead shot

OK, we knew the review was coming because two years ago the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) along with eight other countryside organisations kindly announced on our behalf a five-year, voluntary move away from lead shot for live quarry shooting. All neat and dandy, but it transpires the HSE isn’t just interested in gamebirds, woodpigeon, rabbits and deer killed with lead. Or claims it can harm unborn children (as does blue cheese, by the way). It’s also taking a close look at clay pigeon shooting grounds and the possible damage they might be causing to the environment. Oh, and youngsters popping off airgun pellets at an odd rat or two.

I was about to say ‘shock-horror’ at clay shooting’s inclusion in the list, but it was clear from the start that this wonderful recreation would be dragged into the mix and mincer as well. There’s now talk of grounds that can’t recover a high percentage of spent lead shot being forced to go steel-only. Which is all very rich considering the majority of them banned the use of steel years ago on the grounds of ricochet dangers and/or damage to commercial woodland. And those that can recover lead will have to be licensed. So yet more unwanted red tape and bureaucracy at goodness knows what cost to clubs and shooters.

Ah well, let’s look on the bright side. If the worst should happen, then regulation disciplines such as Skeet, Trap and Sportrap on flat field sites with fall-out space for spent shot might be spared. But what of the numerous sporting facilities operating in and over woodland, in steep valleys or close to farmland? Many of our finest grounds with facilities and infrastructures to match could be wiped off the map at a stroke if this review goes to the limit. How many grounds could be lost? Has the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association (CPSA) got a figure?

I’m a long-standing member of this fine organisation yet can’t recall ever reading an article in its magazine Pull! about this upcoming threat or what the association might be doing about it. No need to worry, though. According to a recent statement issued by Iain Parker, the CPSA’s chief executive, the organisation has been working behind the scenes to protect – and fight – for the sport. Really? So why wait so long to give members reassuring news? And what assurances has the association actually been given by those in power? Furthermore, just how far might things go now the HSE has been unleashed on a Euro-backed directive? Your guess is as good as mine.

After waging a relentless and somewhat hypocritical PR war against lead shot – at goodness knows what cost to the membership – BASC says it will, “challenge proposed restrictions where there are no viable alternatives to lead, where socio-economic factors mean a transition isn’t appropriate, and where lead can continue to be used in settings that present negligible or no risk”.

lead shot in cartridge bag

More red tape: in the future, those that can recover lead will have to be licensed


That’s reassuringly rich of them, but what on earth does this masterful piece of gobbledygook actually mean? You tell me. Hypocritical? Yes. While saying the use of lead shot for live quarry shooting in the countryside is indefensible because of the contamination and birds deaths it causes, how come BASC has continued to allow its widespread use on its own clay lines at green field game and country fairs, and fundraising events? The same applies to some of the other organisations, with clay shoots run for their benefit.

But there’s more. After publicly haranguing UK cartridge makers for not developing non-lead loads fast enough to meet the self-imposed five-year deadline, the organisation now has the brass neck to say it has “significant concerns about the short time frames outlined in the dossier for transition away from the use of lead ammunition, which could be as little as 18 months. This is particularly alarming in light of current global supply-chain issues. We will fight for timelines that are realistic and guided by the sector to ensure that the range of lead-free products and their supply can meet market demands”.

So does this mean it will campaign for a 10-year phase-out period, rather than five, to ensure cartridge manufacturers, and the market, have enough time to deliver exactly what’s needed?

shot pigeon

BASC says it will challenge where it isn’t appropriate to ban lead shot for shooting

And finally: “BASC will be engaging with the regulator to ensure that proposals are robustly scrutinised and that any future restrictions are based on evidence and proportionate to identified risks. We will not accept disproportionate restrictions that unfairly disadvantage shooting activities.”

After helping to let this particular genie out of the jar, that’s going to be a big ask, even coming from the sport’s self-proclaimed ‘voice of shooting’.

So let’s take a knee, give our leaders the benefit of doubt, and hope the HSE is listening.