Lead is a useful but dangerous metal.  It's useful because it can be worked at low temperatures into convenient shapes, so for centuries we have used it in a variety of ways including: water piping, roofing and ammunition.  It's dangerous because our bodies, especially those of children, mistake it for calcium, which is an essential component of bones, teeth and functioning cells in general.  So we absorb it and it disrupts these systems.  As a result, public health experts have argued for the reduction of exposure to lead as far as possible and, generally speaking, the recent trend has been to remove lead from places where it might be breathed, drunk or eaten by people, so it has disappeared, or been greatly reduced from petrol, water pipes and paints.

Lead is also toxic to wildlife, hence the banning of most lead fishing weights and some lead ammunition.

I've already mentioned the conference in the USA last year which brought it home to us, and to the game shooting interests from the UK who were present, that there are still some serious residual wildlife impacts of the use of lead ammunition and that there are human health considerations too. 

Scavenging species such as red kites and white-tailed eagles are particularly at risk of lead poisoning.

The critical piece of information was that lead ammunition (bullets and shot) fragments in the carcass oA roe deer shot at Abernethy nature reserve - the light spots are tiny fragments of lead that have fractured off a bulletf a shot animal distributing pieces of lead widely throughout the animal's body.  The fragments are tiny so cannot be removed by standard butchering techniques or during preparation before cooking (by people) and cannot be avoided by predatory mammals or birds who may feed on shot carcasses.  The photograph shows the carcass of a female roe deer shot at the RSPB's Abernethy nature reserve and the light spots are the tiny lead fragments - you can see how widely distributed they are.

Now there aren't lots of bullets and shotgun pellets flying around on RSPB nature reserves but we do some predator control (notably of foxes on some sites) and we do cull deer at a number of our nature reserves in order to protect the habitat from overgrazing.  Some of those deer carcasses are sold into the human foodchain.  Now although the Food Standards Agency assures us that there is little evidence that lead poisoning from consuming shot game is an issue in the UK, we feel that moving to non-toxic ammunition is a responsible and precautionary move for the good of people and wildlife - there are perfectly good non-lead alternatives to most ammunition which we have tested or are testing on our sites.  So, from this autumn, we are moving towards non-toxic ammunition being used on those RSPB sites where ammunition is used at all.

We are grateful to a number of representative shooting bodies with whom we have had detailed and frequent discussions on this subject over the last 14 months or so.  We know that others are thinking hard about this issue too. 


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