Use of all lead ammunition for live quarry shooting and for most forms of target shooting would be banned under proposals from the Health and Safety Executive.
The sweeping restrictions have been proposed in a ‘restriction dossier’ from the agency. Announcing the proposal, the agency said: “An unacceptable risk has been identified for both hunting with lead shot and from sports shooting.” They also said: “There are no realistic ways to limit the amount of lead entering the environment or to eliminate the risk to humans from ingestion of lead when lead shot is used for hunting.”
For rifle ammunition the proposals would see either an 18 month or a five year transition period between the introduction of the rules and a ban coming into force. The 18 month period would apply to the use of large calibre rifle ammunition and the five year period would apply to airgun ammunition and small calibre rifle ammunition. The longer transition period for smaller rounds is intended to give enough time for non-lead alternatives to be developed.
For shotgun ammunition the situation is less certain. The dossier proposes a ‘derogation’ that would allow the continued use of lead ammunition at shooting grounds where they had systems to recover at least 90% of the lead shot fired. If this derogation was agreed then the sale and use of lead ammunition could continue for as long as five years while these systems are put in place. If the derogation was not agreed the transition period would last just 18 months.
The restrictions are at the more severe end of what had been expected. Responding to the proposals, BASC Executive Director of Operations Steve Bloomfield said: “We have significant concerns about the short timeframes 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.
“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.”
The dossier suggested that the voluntary transition away from lead shot being driven by shooting organisations could be a major factor in favour of a longer period for shotgun ammunition as it could, “significantly reduce the risks arising from hunting during this period.” However the role of the voluntary transition in the proposed ban proved controversial. BASC’s Steve Bloomfield said: “Given the severity of the proposed restrictions, the voluntary transition has afforded the sector a head-start in the move away from lead ammunition.”
However some grass roots shooters took a different view. Scottish Shooter Alan Urqhart asked: “Would we even be in this position if the shotgun organisations hadn’t introduced their own voluntary ban? Maybe if they had made it clear they would fight the HSE might not have gone after lead at all.”
Others simply wanted to know what would happen if suitable non-lead alternatives could not be found. Air rifle shooter Reece Hesketh asked: “If they go five years and no-one can produce a non-lead pellet at a sensible price, then what?”