Lead ammunition could be phased out under government plans to help protect wildlife and nature, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow has announced today (March 23).

A large volume of lead ammunition is discharged every year over the countryside, causing harm to the environment, wildlife and people, according to the minister’s department.

The government is now considering a ban under the UK’s new chemical regulation system – UK REACH – and has requested an official review of the evidence to begin today, with a public consultation in due course.

Research by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust shows that between 50,000 to 100,000 wildfowl die in the UK each year after ingesting lead from used pellets.

Despite being highly toxic, wildfowl often mistake the pellets for food. A further 200,000 to 400,000 birds suffer welfare or health impacts.

Lead poisoning

Lead ammunition can also find its way into the wider environment and the food chain, posing a risk to people if they eat contaminated game birds.

Studies have also found that lead poisoning caused lowered immune systems in wild birds, potentially aiding the spread of diseases such as Avian Influenza (bird flu).

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

Addressing the impacts of lead ammunition will mark a significant step forward in helping to protect wildlife, people, and the environment.

“This is a welcome development for our new chemicals framework, and will help ensure a sustainable relationship between shooting and conservation.

‘Toxic risks from lead ammunition’

The announcement has been welcomed by environmental organisations.

Dr. Julia Newth, ecosystem health and social dimensions manager at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), said:

“Conservationists, including WWT, shooting organisations and game meat retailers have recognised the toxic risks from lead ammunition to people and the environment.

Regulation of its use in all shooting, wherever this may happen, is very much needed as soon as possible, to protect human and animal health and to enable us to move towards a greener and safer future.

“Shooting organisations are also supportive of transitioning away from the use of lead ammunition and are working with government to bring this about,” she concluded.