Why is Protect the Wild opposed to lead shot?

Lead is a serious pollutant. Due to its high toxicity, most releases of lead into the environment are strictly regulated in Europe (e.g. see AMEC 2012).

Here in the UK, lead was banned from water pipes decades ago, from paint in 1992, and finally fully banned from vehicle fuel in 2000.

The shooting industry though is still using lead shot in its cartridges. Industry figures suggest that as many as 260 MILLION cartridges “are needed across all UK sporting activities” (as well as being full of lead, cartridges are a significant source of dumped plastic).  

Each cartridge fired ejects about 300 pellets of lead. Every year between 5- and 6 thousand tonnes of lead is fired across fields, moorlands, and woodlands, where it contaminates soil and water. Spent lead risks the health of wild birds that mistakenly ingest lead shot with prey or (in the case of waterfowl like some ducks and swans) swallow it instead of small stones to grind down food in their gizzards. Poisoned birds die slow, agonising deaths, as frequent firsthand reports from the likes of Wildfowl and Wetland Trust attest.

shogun cartridge and pellets discarded into the countryside

Birds killed with lead are still being sold in supermarkets, even though there is there is no known safe blood lead concentration; even blood lead concentrations as low as 5 µg/dL may be associated with decreased intelligence in children, behavioural difficulties and learning problems.

Even the usually ‘neutral’ BBC was prompted to note in early 2021 that “Almost all pheasants sold for food in the UK contain toxic lead shot”. The BBC was commenting on a report in Conservation Evidence which found that “Of 180 birds examined by the scientists, 179 were shot with lead“ concluding that a voluntary five year phasing out of lead shot by the shooting industry had “not yet had a detectable effect on the ammunition types used by shooters supplying pheasants to the British game market”.

The reason for this appears to be that using lead shot has become something of a ‘line in the sand’ for shooting.

  1. Lobbyists fear that giving ground on lead shot will open the door to more restrictions on shooting.

  2. Shooters claim alternatives are not widely available. Protect the Wild would be the last organisation to actively push for any form of ammunition, but the fact is that steel shot has been available for many years now, and market forces would create more alternatives if shooters were to use them.

  3. Shooters say that it would be expensive to modify gun barrels to accept alternatives. Even if this were true an entire motor industry managed to make small changes to engines when leaded petrol was phased out because it was forced to do so by government.


Almost unbelievably the industry also claims that shooters use lead shot for welfare considerations. Because lead is such a dense material, shooters say it allows for better accuracy and deeper penetration into the body of the mammal or bird. The obvious answer to genuinely improving the welfare of wildlife is just to stop shooting at it of course.

It’s not just in the UK either. Europe’s hunters have form on this issue too.

In 2004 the self-aggrandising European Federation for Hunting and Conservation (or FACE) made an agreement with BirdLife International which included a commitment to phase out lead shot use in wetlands “as soon as possible” throughout the EU, and in any case “no later than 2009”.

Eleven years past this deadline, FACE brazenly stated that the transition period proposed by the Commission to phase out lead shots was ‘too-short’.

Birdlife responded by saying that “The FACE criticism in reality opposes everything which would result in the long over-due and enforceable ban on lead shot”, and they are taking “a sledgehammer to the social acceptance of hunting in Europe.”

Conservation has typically opted to take a ‘neutral’ approach to the shooting industry but for how much longer? Shooting lobbyists BASC have admitted myths were spread (ie they lied) to defend the use of lead ammunition, including that more people would break their teeth on the alternatives and that lead was less likely to ricochet than steel shot. Public pressure is building for serious reform.

On 15th February 2023 using lead shot ammunition in wetlands became illegal in all 27 EU countries, as well as in Iceland, Norway, and Lichtenstein. The law came into force following a 2-year period given to EU countries to prepare for the change. All countries where the REACH Regulation applies must enforce a prohibition on the carrying and use of lead shot in, or within 100m of, wetlands, as defined by the Ramsar convention, from that date.

The UK stands in stark opposition though. In January 2023, despite years of previous delay, Shooting UK gloated that the “process to restrict lead shot” across the UK had been pushed back yet another six months to February 2024, this time blaming a “post-pandemic global supply challenge”. 

The European Chemicals Agency is working hard on a second restriction which proposes a complete ban on the use of lead shot, but thanks to the UK shooting industry there will be yet another year of pollution and toxic lead waste being added to wetlands here (and as was revealed in May 2023, even to dog food made partly with dead pheasant: environmental research journal Ambio published a study into the levels of lead found in commercial dog food which found concentrations of lead in some dog food to be nearly 50 times higher than the EU’s maximum residue level).

Thanks to all of Europe’s shooters and the lobbyists who promote the shooting industry, the ban does not apply beyond wetlands. Lead ammunition will continue to poison the environment away from wetlands.

Shooting’s unyeilding stubborness is unforgiveable and the public certainly won’t thank this industry for its selfishness.


Our feeling is that shooting itself is overseeing the implementation of the stricter controls it has always fought against, and will have only itself to blame when they are put in place.

And that time can’t come soon enough.