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Grey partridge chicks dying of lead poisoning

In a fascinating and strikingly relevant article for the Shooting Times, Conor O’Gorman explored the connection between ingestion of lead shot and high grey partridge chick mortality. The plight of the grey partridge, once abundant in our hedgerows, fields and game larders, is increasingly in the limelight, as it should be, and issues like lead shot are ones that are fixable in the short term. Those guns who consider themselves conservationists should not need any other reason than this to make the voluntary transition away from using lead shot.

The science, as explored by O’Gorman, carried out by the GWCT, its predecessors and others goes back 150 years, is significant in volume and is unequivocal. Grey partridge are eating lead shot and thereby dying of lead poisoning. The reason behind this, we assume, is that lead shot resembles the grit which partridge of all ages require for their digestion process. Now harking back to primary school chemistry, I’m sure you’ll remember that metal + acid gives salt + hydrogen, this is exactly what is happening to the lead shot in the low pH digestive tract of a partridge, as the lead shot reacts with the acid to form highly toxic lead salts, which are either fatal or debilitating. This is most acute in partridge chicks, given their body size, and exacerbated by other risk factors like scarcity of food and suitable habitat along with high predation pressure.

This controllable risk doesn’t just affect the grey partridge, but other species of bird too, including raptors which feed upon birds that have either died of lead poisoning or have been shot and not picked. It is therefore important that we in the shooting community take more responsibility for our actions if they are contributing to, rather than rectifying, the paucity in grey partridge numbers, and having a detrimental impact on bird of prey species.  

The solution is quite straightforward, we all need to make the move away from using lead shot as soon as we possibly can. Cartridge manufacturers have been working like Trojans since shooting and rural organisations, including the Countryside Alliance, called for a voluntary transition away from lead shot and single use plastics for the shooting of live quarry with shotguns, and the options for game shooting are now very good. Steel and bismuth cartridges are widely available, and come in options for all game shots, whether you’re using a 19th century, Damascus barrelled hammer gun or a 32” barrelled, modern over-and-under with protruding chokes.

Surely there is no better reason than giving a boost to grey partridge conservation to make the change to non-lead shot now? If you’re thinking about stocking up on cartridges for next season, spare a thought for the grey partridge and buy steel or bismuth, the power is in your hands. 

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