by Tim Bonner

Two years ago the Alliance, along with eight other rural organisations, called for the voluntary phase out of lead shot in live quarry shooting in five years. We did so because of the growing evidence of the impact of lead shot on the environment beyond wetlands where its use is already restricted and, quite frankly, because it is the right thing to do. Lead is toxic, of that there is no argument, and promoting shooting’s environmental credentials whilst dispersing a toxic element into that environment when effective alternatives are available is not sustainable.

It was also quite obvious that a ban on the use of all lead ammunition was inevitable and a voluntary phase out would be an opportunity for game shooting to make a managed transition to non-lead ammunition and avoid a reputationally damaging legislative battle. It was, therefore, no surprise at all when earlier this month the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published the dossier on the use of lead in ammunition which it had been asked to prepare by the government. The UK process has mirrored very closely a similar process being carried out in the EU and it came to similar conclusions.

The HSE proposals include a ban on the sale of lead shot, a ban on the use of all types of lead ammunition for live quarry shooting and a ban on the use of lead shot and lead bullets for outdoor target shooting, with a possible exemption relating to international athletes. Our main concern is the potentially short time frame for transition that could be implemented once the six-month consultation process has been completed and legislation prepared and passed. That period could be a short as 18 months, or as long as 5 years, dependent on which derogations are accepted.

Whilst the Alliance is clear that phasing out the use of lead shot in live quarry shooting is the right thing to do, live quarry shooting only accounts for a minority of ammunition used in the UK and there are huge practical considerations to the prohibition of lead in all ammunition. We have also been warning for some time of the disruption to global logistic supply chains caused by Covid that is having a profound effect on the manufacture of steel and other non-lead cartridges. More recently, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has seen ammunition manufacturers shift their focus onto military, rather than sporting ammunition. The HSE does not seem to have taken these factors into account when making its recommendations and therefore not understood that the shorter transition periods it suggests are simply not feasible.

The consultation will provide an opportunity for organisations like the Alliance, Aim to Sustain, and you as individuals, to ensure that there are appropriate transition periods to allow manufacturers the time to scale-up production of viable alternatives to lead. We will be publishing a comprehensive response to the consultation on our website soon, alongside advice and guidance for those of you who may also wish to respond.

Whilst moving away from lead ammunition is the right thing to do, government and regulators must work with organisations like the Alliance and ammunition manufacturers to make sure that the ambition for change can be met in the required timescale.

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