(c) Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

Todays blog is written by Imogen Taylor, Species Policy Officer about the need for a comprehensive ban on the sale and use of lead shot and bullets in all landscapes.    


The RSPB has been calling for a ban on the sale and use of lead ammunition for many years now.  

Each of the UK countries has banned the use of lead shot over wetlands in slightly different legislation. However, evidence suggests that compliance with this ban is low.  For example, recent analysis in Scotland found that despite efforts to encourage compliance with regulations that had, at the time of the survey, been in force for 17-18 years, about half of the shotgun cartridges found in wetland (intertidal and riparian) habitats contained lead gunshot, indicating unlawful use. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, away from wetlands, the use of lead ammunition remains legal, and a call by shooting organisations for a voluntary switch away from the use of lead by 2025 has made only limited progress, with the SHOTSWITCH research project finding that 94% of pheasants sampled in 2022-23 had been shot with lead ammunition.   

The evidence is clear – a comprehensive ban on the sale and use of lead shot and bullets in all landscapes is needed.  

What is the deal with lead? 

Lead is a poison that is very harmful to people and nature.  Because of this it has long been banned in many of the products that we use in our everyday lives like petrol and paint.  We have done multiple blog posts on this issue, so please look here, here or here, if you want to read the background on this topic.  

There are many problems with the continued use of lead ammunition and the impacts it can have on people and wildlife.  It is estimated that 75,000 waterbirds, plus predatory and scavenging birds such as White-tailed Eagles, Red Kites and Marsh Harriers die each year in the UK as a direct result of lead poisoning and many more are impacted by the other effects including reduced fertility and weakened immune systems.   

The UK Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals Regulation (REACH) restriction process

In 2021, the UK REACH process began and was tasked by the Defra Secretary of State (with the agreement of the Scottish and Welsh Governments) with considering the risks posed by lead ammunition to human health and the environment and publishing proposals for the restriction of lead ammunition.  This request was made on the basis that the use of lead in ammunition raises concerns related to both human health and the environment. The harm of lead ammunition to wildfowl is of particular concern – poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition causes long-term suffering and slow painful deaths for animals. The health of humans, particularly children, may also be adversely affected from eating meat killed using lead ammunition’.  

This process is nearing its end with evidence gathering, with a consultation on the REACH ‘dossier’ already having been completed. The latest step was the recent delayed publication of a risk assessment, draft socio-economic opinion and socio-economic consultation.  

We will now be working through the detail of this consultation and collaborating with the growing coalition of voices calling for a ban to compile our own technical response.  We are deeply concerned that the proposed restrictions fall far short of the comprehensive ban on the sale and use of lead ammunition that is needed to protect nature, the environment and human health.     

A ban on lead ammunition has been decades coming and is long overdue – each year, thousands of tonnes of lead shotgun pellets are used and dispersed into the environment. This is taking an unacceptable toll on wildlife, so we won’t stop fighting for a complete ban.