Saturday 3 October 2009

RSPB switching to 'non toxic' ammo

The RSPB's Mark Avery has announced that his organisation is switching to non-toxic (ie non-lead) ammunition on its reserves. His approach is set out in a blog post here, illustrated with an x-ray of a roe shot at their Abernethy nature reserve, speckled with white dots which he says are lead particles (although I suspect at least some will be fragments of the copper jacket).

Avery grudgingly admits that foxes and deer are shot on RSPB reserves, and goes on to say that the RSPB feels that moving to non-toxic ammo is "a responsible and precautionary move for the good of people and wildlife".

Remarkably he states categorically that "there are perfectly good non-lead alternatives to most ammunition which we have tested or are testing on our sites". I'd be interested to see that data.

And he drops the hint again about "representative shooting bodies with whom we have had detailed and frequent discussions on this subject over the last 14 months or so".

The 'phasing out' of lead shot has been a growing theme on this blog - click here to see all the related posts. From my own discussions with individuals at organisations like BASC it's clear they believe that lead shot and bullets are on borrowed time.

I'm still unconvinced by the science behind it all, but in the end I don't think it will make the slightest difference. Lead is going, and we'll just have to get used to it.

I've used non-toxic shotgun ammo, and found it either inferior or considerably more expensive or both - but it still works. As for non-lead rifle bullets, I've no personal experience but I know that some US hunters are having to use them. I think it's time I started taking more of an interest in how well (or not) they work. After all, I'm thinking about buying a new centrefire rifle, and I'd kick myself if I got something that proved to be unsuitable with non-lead ammo.


Alan Tilmouth said...

I'm a little confused by your stance on this issue James, this time last year you said "But we shoot ourselves in both feet if we stubbornly refuse even to consider that lead might be a problem. American hunters have taken this on board. Sooner or later, we will have to." One year later you appear to be aiming at your own feet.

vicky said...

The truth is there is little hard evidence for lead shot and especially bullets being a problem. There is little evidence that it isn't either! Current legislation is being drawn up assuming lead is bad and without properly looking at the impact of lead alternatives; will steel or bismuth cause different issues? Shooters MUST consider if lead is causing a problem, but we must also demand proper research.

Meconopsis said...

The argument is wildfowl die through the ingestion of lead shot ! Would it not be a very simple exercise to collect lets say 1000 gizzards from shot wildfowl from game dealers throughout the uk and see how many contain lead pellets.

I am sure a student studying biology could run the tests for very little money.

James Marchington said...

Interesting comment from a Dr Dan Holdsworth on my earlier post Sniping at Lead - basically he's saying that lead from firearms is not the source of lead in children, old leaded paint is.

Alan Tilmouth said...

I think the argument here is not just the ingestion of lead shot by wildfowl but the risk to non-game species and humans from the ingestion of lead shot fragments in meat and scavenged carcasses.If I understand correctly the suggestion is that this may build up over time and cause health issues. My question though is why the reluctance to change? As a non shooter what does lead offer that the alternatives dont?

James Marchington said...

Lead has been used in firearms for centuries because it provides excellent ballistic performance. The combination of softness and density minimises damage to barrels, while giving 'clean' kills at normal ranges - the pellets (or bullets) have good kinetic energy and, because of the way they deform on impact, transmit their energy efficiently to the target, resulting in a quick death. (It's worth remembering that this is not the intention with military ammunition, so direct comparisons are not relevant).
Gold might be a suitable alternative (being a soft, dense metal) but would clearly not be cost-effective.
Other alternatives offered in ammunition so far (eg steel) have significant disadvantages - greater recoil, damage to firearm barrels, greater risk of ricochet, danger to timber workers & damage to timber cutting equipment, damage to teeth when eating game, etc - and early results suggest both shorter effective range and a higher risk of wounding quarry rather than killing it cleanly.
Faced with all that, I am reluctant to change until it's shown that there is a real problem with lead ammunition.
These things are rarely black-and-white, eg lead=bad, non-lead=good. There will be risks and benefits associated with any solution, and I'd like to see these assessed in a balanced way, rather than too much weight being given to the 'potential' harm from lead purely because it's fashionable.

Unknown said...

James. Why do you doubt the science? I have reviewed most of it and see no reason to. And that is from the ecology to the Human health sciences. If you say you doubt it tell us what flaws you found in it.
James + Vicky. I have said time and time again, their are lots of published works out their allready you just have to find it, literally hundereds of published peer reviewed papers. Granted you have to pay to access some of them online but you may find there is a print copy at your local uni library.
Andy. That work has been done, and not just for waterfowl, for Game birds as well which was work reviewed by Dick Potts (of GCT fame) in his role at CIC (you can find this info online).
Lead is toxic, get over it and "try" a lead alternative in all your shooting. I have and cannot find any limitations within my shooting ability, which maybe says more about my poor abilities than anything else!
What annoys me most is the RSPB got the PR on this and not a shooting estate or similar, again we as an industry have failed to get good PR on showing leadership towards change.

James Marchington said...

Tom, it's no so much the science, as the interpretation of the science. Scientists are not in the business of making risk/benefit calculations. If I ask a scientist "is it safe to cross the road" he will direct me to several worthy, peer-reviewed papers showing that crossing a road may lead to horrible injury and death. Only when he is off-duty will he give me the sensible, practical answer "sure, just make sure you look both ways first".