Lead shot: what did you tell us?

By Andrew Gilruth, Director of Communications & Membership

This week’s statement on a five-year transition away from the use of single-use plastic and lead, in shotgun ammunition for those shooting game, has prompted many of you to get in touch. We were expecting a wide range of comments because that is exactly what you told us earlier this year:

In January, we launched a survey asking if you thought it was time to move away from lead. Almost 4,000 responded, with 53% saying we should.

Graph 2 New

Reasons To Stay With Lead Graph New

These findings reflected the questions I was commonly asked when I talked about lead over the last 18 months at GWCT members’ roadshow events. Whilst I can't even pretend that, in writing in our members’ magazine Gamewise and speaking at over 25 events, I would reach the attention of all our members, I can honestly say I have done my best to speak to as many people as I could.


At these talks, I was able to share my own journey on lead. In 2015 I was one of the people who was actively involved in briefing MPs in Westminster ahead of the debate on banning lead ammunition. I watched the debate and subsequent vote and travelled home content that we had done a great job.

However, since then many things have changed. Emerging evidence on the impact of lead to human health is now dire (the GWCT does not have human health experts and so we must rely on toxicology experts around the globe for this). There is also more evidence about wildlife. The first GWCT study on the impacts on grey partridges (2005 – 75% of those that ingest lead die) was small in scale. However, it has now been replicated by other studies over a range of species in a number of other countries. They all show similar negative effects.

The final point is that cartridges themselves have developed to the point where there are some suitable alternatives. However, there are still real knowledge gaps – particularly about which ammunition is best suited to which scenario and in which gun. This is why we have called for a five-year transition, not a ban. This allows for adjustments to be made and new products developed.

I am one of those lucky people who regularly have the opportunity to put my head above the parapet in newspapers, radio and occasionally on TV to defend the huge contribution that good game management makes to wildlife. I also go to various protest rallies, including Hen Harrier Day. For doing this I receive a fair amount of abuse, both in private and public, from people such as Chris Packham and Mark Avery. I don’t mind – it’s what makes me get out of bed. I don’t care what they think. I do care that the truth is told. However, please don’t get in touch and ask me to defend the indefensible on lead.

If you are one of the people I have not had a chance to speak to at one of the many previous GWCT members’ roadshow events, perhaps join me at one of the spring dates by booking here. It would be lovely to see you. It will be me speaking, and I encourage members to ask questions as we go along, which certainly makes it interesting for me. There will also be updates about recent research and the General Licences.

Next members’ roadshow talks - book now


Lead shot

at 11:09 on 04/03/2020 by Tim Brayford

Its really good to see the shooting organisations co-operating together and becoming proactive on this subject. Self-regulation must be preferable to parliamentary legislation permitting those who prefer to use lead shot to continue to do so. Shoots that move forward to only using non-toxic shot will presumably be able to find a strong commercial market for their birds, with increasing public demand for them both within the UK & further abroad.

Lead Shot

at 9:53 on 04/03/2020 by chris Andrews

The move away from lead is, I Believe, absolutely essential. Well done for addressing the matter. There is clearly more to do in informing those who are unconvinced. I hope we can support the Countryside and all those involved.

Lead shot

at 9:47 on 04/03/2020 by Brin Hughes

The debate also needs to include the impact on the food processors. At our oat mill in Bedford we regularly find lead shot in the oats we process. Because lead is not metallic the magnetic detectors fail to pick it up. This is also a significant issue for wheat mills. There is uncertainty how it gets into the lorry load of grain, there is virtually no chance that a lead shot pellet could stick in the panicle of an oat plant, so there is the suggestion that it comes from vermin being shot in grain stores, which is of course not allowed. Whatever the source, a move to steel shot would be welcomed by the food prcessors.

Lead shot ban

at 9:27 on 04/03/2020 by Lloyd Owen

Although I can understand the 'industry' embracing a lead shot ban, I feel totally marginalised. The environmental and food safety concerns appear overstated. My twelve year old son has just enjoyed his third season as the third generation to use the same 1930's S/S 410. I use a 1930's 12 bore with crossover stock to accomodate an eye issue and 2 1/2 inch chambers. There are no O/Us in my cabinet. I cannot see an affordable ammunition option for these type of older guns which will become worthless. Not an issue for many who enjoy large bag days on (expensive) commercial shoots, but not much left for the rest of us low impact game shooters and vermin controllers.

Cartridges/lead shot

at 21:02 on 03/03/2020 by Dennis Fletcher

We must make this positive transition from lead to steel in all shotgun shooting disciplines.Fibre or bio degradable wads and paper cases.What is the problem,cost per cartridge should not be a concern due to supply and demand..I would suggest that anyone who have not yet tried a modern day steel load should do so,i think they will find it is not the cartridge that is the problem.

Lead Shot.

at 18:29 on 03/03/2020 by Nat Parsons.

I'm strongly in favour of getting rid of lead shot; and agree with many of the extracts of emails, etc, that you have printed. Not least excessive bag sizes. I would appreciate your comments on how we may continue to use older guns whose barrels may not stand up well to regular use of steel shot. It would be a pity, in the field, to lose what are demonstrations of fine past workmanship: bismuth is an expensive solution.

Steel cartridges

at 17:23 on 03/03/2020 by MR> KEITH HAYNES

If steel cartridges will be half the price of lead ones I will use them for my pigeon control and corvids, but you know and I know the only winners will be the cartridge companies they are not cheap and whilst on the subject, safety steel will ricochet and if you are in the beating line or picking up everyone would be at risk.

Lead shot v's other materials

at 16:13 on 03/03/2020 by Paul Myles

High birds - I understand that high birds are more likely to be pricked rather than killed, therefore I do not lament the passing of high bird shoots that is a likely outcome of the move away from lead. As mentioned above 40 yards will become the new long range and is more in line with the capabilities of the shotgun as a weapon. Toxicity - not convinced here. For the past 2 years I have consumed an above average volume of lead shot birds and have chewed on pellets as well as stewed them unwittingly in wine in the slow cooker. I had an opportunity to have the lead level in my blood tested and the level came back as low/normal. Either the NHS blood test is flawed or lead blood quantity is not highly influenced by ingestion. Market will respond - cartridge makers will alter their products and the cost will come down accordingly. Shooters are better to take control and be driving this agenda than having it dictated to them by activists. Now it will be a race to get the products out and into the users hands and could provide a significant opportunity for the number 2 and 3 suppliers to erode or overtake the current number 1 supplier. Steel is effective - I have shot and killed geese, pigeons and the ever hardy ducks at challenging distances, c.40 yards. I would not have attempted those birds at a greater distance had I been shooting lead because they would have simply been too far to reasonably expect a kill.

Lead shot

at 16:05 on 03/03/2020 by Cameron manson

There greatest concentration of shot is around clay shooting schools ,on a Tuesday night ,for 26 evenings in the year ,on avarage 1500 shots are fired in a school near me At a conservative estimate if each shot contains two ounces of lead ,that is 3000 ounces per night .ie 75000 ounces per annum every year of a substance that is harmfull in any quantity ,being concentrated in a very small area , We would hope that the shooting schools would be the first to change to another shot


at 14:09 on 03/03/2020 by Andrew Reed

Great article, keep up the good work and thank you for being so passionate on our behalf!

More work needed

at 13:59 on 03/03/2020 by E Seligman

Whilst I understand the arguments you are making here, I still take issue with the process and the solution you propose. There is no doubt that we need to move away from lead, but the way you have gone about this has left many members blindsided. They are the people whise livelihoods and interests you represent. There should have been much wider consultation with members, stakeholders, the shooting industry and much closer alignment with the cartridge manufacturers to make sure that the alternatives are as effective, economical and available in a similarly broad range to lead. Given the response from the manufacturers, I am inclined to believe them when they say that the alternatives have not been sufficiently developed to offer a viable alternative. It is possible that over 5 years, and with adequate support, the alternatives will be viable, but I can't see the Government risking the negative PR that supporting the manufacturers would attract. Furthermore, in my view, the greatest sin a shooting person can commit is to leave large numbers of wounded birds uncollected. Unless lead alternatives can be developed to such an extent that they are 100% comparable in their effectiveness, then we may as well give up and ban shooting now. I fully intend to switch over once it can be proved to me that the lethality of non lead is comparable with lead. Wishing you all the best...I want to be convinced!

Lead shot

at 13:48 on 03/03/2020 by Simon Denny

I spoke to my local gun dealer about whether my guns could shoot lead shot without being damaged. I was delighted to learn that they can, despite neither being officially proofed for steel. Those of us that shoot have to set and lead (no pun intended) the agenda. The transition to steel needs to happen.

lead shot

at 13:43 on 03/03/2020 by ken

A switch from lead shot to steel will "make" higher birds. As the margin of the effective range comes in, thereby the most average shoots will become top shoots (in terms of presenting challenging birds), and challenging high-bird shoots will be rendered unfeasible, so be encouraged to develop wilder birds and different drives, rather than chasing chickens over ravines.

Lead shot

at 13:28 on 03/03/2020 by Neil Edwards

I believe its common seance to move away from Lead-shot being its dangerous toxic, at least steel shot is toxic-free which in its self is a good thing to have in the field, so it's a positive move forward for Cartridge Manufacturers in my estimation, I give it Thumbs-up

Lead shot

at 12:08 on 03/03/2020 by Mark Walton

TGS outdoors are running good videos on YouTube about lead shot. It's early days but it doesn't look as bad as a lot of us think.

Lead Shot

at 11:59 on 03/03/2020 by A M Harvey

A very helpful letter, clarifying the actions taken and the member research involved. I fully support your progressive response to the lead debate.


at 11:55 on 03/03/2020 by Paul White

Game shooting can only survive if we can dispose of the birds/animals into the food chain. Supermarkets (and increasingly the EU), will not take anything shot using lead, therefore we have to change to an alternative. Over commercialisation of game shooting has brought this about. Too much is being shot. The days when a farm shoot shot a maximum of 100/150 birds and the end product was either taken home by all the parties involved or sold to local pubs are gone and through our greed we have come to the point where unless we do something, all live shooting will cease. We have stuck our heads in the sand for too long and need to understand the world of social media makes it easy for our detractors to have a more vociferous voice. There is no going back, lead has to be taken out of the equation.

Lead Shot

at 11:46 on 03/03/2020 by Peter wright

Well done with this controversial subject,volentarially done gives us time to put a good package together before Bosos like Pack ham and Co exploit it to another load of lies

lead shot

at 11:44 on 03/03/2020 by william harris

I was against it until i used a couple of boxes of steel. Pigeons folded at 40 yards exactly the same. I collected the plas wads after shooting leaving nothing on the ground.

Lead shot

at 11:37 on 03/03/2020 by Ken

Thank you for an excellent article. I have been aware of the lead issue for years, as many have, and I would say that there are two main issues currently: Cost and efficacy. Nobody likes wounding birds and steel seems more prone to that (perhaps we need to adjust our shooting in other ways). I am very wary of non lead rifle bullets. The cost is a major factor for many shooters. I shoot relatively low numbers of birds, and I use Bismith for waterfowl, which works as well as lead in my opinion. Changing from lead to bismuth to suit the drive is a bit of a pain, so that would be an advantage if lead is banned. For sports like pigeon shooting, I guess costs would be prohibitive for many, at today's prices for non lead shot. Down to the manufacturers to pass on bulk cost savings from switching to all non toxic shot. I often think of the many tonnes of lead and plastic wads on clay grounds and cannot see how that can continue. A lot of people haven't recovered from the shock of the joint statement and memberships will be reduced. We could learn from that.

Lead shot

at 11:35 on 03/03/2020 by Skippy

I think that your announcement about a 5 year transition away from lead shot was premature. While I support the idea in principle, there would have to be a practical, affordable and proven alternative in place before I could support such a radical shift in policy. It is extremely disappointing that the response from the UK cartridge manufacturers shows that this is clearly not the case. Wishful thinking is not an adequate substitute for a coherent and achievable plan to achieve this aim.

Moving away from lead

at 11:29 on 03/03/2020 by Mike Holliday

I fully support this move away from lead and believe by doing this we will prompt the makers of game cartridges to move up a gear and really show what can be done with alternatives. I was shocked when I calculated just how much lead we actually use.

Lead shot

at 11:27 on 03/03/2020 by Charles Eyston

Of course we should try and move away from lead shot, BUT in a time frame that works with the manufacturers of cartridges, so that we have a viable alternative. At the moment we don't. In the meantime, it looks like non plastic cartridges are achievable. I believe Hull have an alternative that should be available soon.

Lead Shot

at 11:25 on 03/03/2020 by CJ

Interesting stats.... 86% of the 47% of the against vote boils down to cost and lethality. A box of 25 Bismuth is £38, so the same cost as a pheasant on a driven shoot. Lethality is a question of perception and becoming less of an issue as technology advances and familiarity increases. So the level of objective objection is fairly low, in reality, and I wonder how many of those who object have tried steel or the alternatives. Good to see a cohesive stance being taken on this, even though none of my 3 shotguns are steel proofed.


at 11:22 on 03/03/2020 by Jonathan Anglesea

Lead and plastic should form no part of cartridges. We are members of the BASC - the C stands for Conservation. How can we claim to be conservationists if our sport spreads toxic and non-biodegradable waste around the countryside? We should be using non-toxic shot, compostable wads and paper cartridges. The cost is trivial compared to other elements of shooting; the harm to livestock and wildlife from lead and plastic makes this a non-argument.

Bag sizes

at 11:17 on 03/03/2020 by Charlie Lane Fox

I do reluctantly agree that science appears to be heavily weighted against the use of lead for health of all animals including humans. However to justify banning lead on the grounds that it will help shot game to be sold into the food chain is just an untruth. The real problem here is the disgracefully large bag numbers that are shot around the UK. When will the GWCT be tackling this problem?

Lead shot

at 11:16 on 03/03/2020 by stephen hooper

I find it easy to support a transition from lead shot and non degradable wads to more environmentally friendly alternatives, however is this the thin end of the wedge for all ammunition? The .22 rimfire is the most useful tool in the box and its role must be defended.

Lead shot and 20 bore guns

at 11:12 on 03/03/2020 by Graham Hudson

The majority of us support the phasing out of lead shot and plastic wads. However a large proportion of guns are 20 bore and while it is currently easy to obtain steel shot there is nothing in the pipeline of manufacturers to provide bio degradable wads AND steel shot. Please don’t forget us!!

Replacing Lead

at 11:11 on 03/03/2020 by Chris Prendergast

Some consider the cartridge manufacturers position to be obstructive but they have been marching towards replacing lead with suitable cost effective alternatives. The twin aims of removal of plaswads & lead are, at this point in time, difficult to achieve in the given timeframe. We must firstly stop the use of plaswads (two carrier bags for each plaswads fired) and allow the manufacturers the time to produce a suitable wad system for non toxic shot that allows use of the alternatives through all our guns. The position of the manufacturers just shows how poor we are at ensuring that we understand everyone’s position before putting out a statement that seems to apportion blame or exert pressure on the one sector that we need on board. It happens every time!

Lead shot

at 14:14 on 02/03/2020 by Roddy Nash

Best to fight battles that we can win. The banning of lead shot is inevitable. No value in chasing a lost cause. I fully support GWCT engaging with others to find an alternative.

Lead shot

at 9:49 on 02/03/2020 by Peter Long

Thank you for taking this survey Of members’ attitude .The result is closer than I would have liked but is clearly supportive of the action suggested in the recent joint statement. I was very surprised by the cartridge manufacturers’ stance which suggested to me that they are part of the problem , they clearly need to be part of the solution.


at 9:14 on 02/03/2020 by simon upton

well done you it is time for a transision away from lead and get our shooting house in order befor legeslation is forced appon us (which will always be badly written and thus to our detrement ) it will help us put eadable food into the food chain which gives a better argument to the release of non native birds into the countryside and the justification of our "SPORT " this demand from us will drive reaserch and change fron the cartridge manufacturers carry on your good work

Lead shot

at 9:02 on 02/03/2020 by G P C Dodd

Congratulations on all your hard work. Change clearly has to come, and we need pressure on the ammunition manufacturers to accelerate the development of new cases and wads/shot-cups as well as the shot itself.

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