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Lead shot poisoning: a hidden threat

5 February, 2013 - 10:58 -- John Burton
Lead shot poisoning: a hidden threat

As the game bird shooting season draws to a close in the UK, a recent report highlights the problems of spent ammunition in the environment.

People living in rural areas in Britain are used to the distant sound of gunshot and the squawking of pheasants, but few are aware that lead shot doesn’t just kill game birds, it can poison them as well.

Lead shot is the right size for many birds to ingest to line their gizzards – being remarkably similar to the grit they would normally use. 

Interestingly, there seems to be much more public awareness of the issue in the USA.

The scientific paper mentioned below was produced by the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. It documents the deaths of endangered California Condors between October 1992 and the end of 2009.

The study found that 70 per cent of the deaths – 53 out of 76 - are attributed to human causes, lead poisoning in particular. And most of that lead comes from pellets in the corpses on which the condors feed (deer carcasses, for example).

Just think how many tonnes of lead shot are distributed into the British countryside every grouse hunting season. And on every pheasant shoot. And over the ponds, marshes and wetland habitat of ducks and other wildfowl. 

I found it quite difficult to source much information on the current situation in Britain or the rest of Europe. I would be interested in any insights from friends in cyber space.

More information


Submitted by Robert Burton on

I had fondly thought that legislation in the early 1980s had led to lead shot being phased out, after it was realised that swans were dying from eating it. Obviously not. See
Some European countries have eliminated it; why not us?

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