The sociological and political aspects of reducing lead poisoning from ammunition in the UK: why the transition to non-toxic ammunition is so difficult

Ruth Cromie, Julia Newth, Jonathan Reeves , Michelle F O'Brien, Katie Beckmann, Martin Brown

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract / Description of output

A range of pressures and policy drivers exist to reduce human and wildlife exposures to the toxic effects of lead from ammunition sources, awareness of which has increased in recent years. The replacement of lead ammunition with nontoxic alternatives is widely recognised as a practical and effective solution to address the risks. As a consequence a range of users of ammunition for natural resource management are making, or have made, this transition. This paper explores
a resistance to change from many in the recreational shooting community. Compliance with the current regulations restricting use of lead shot in England in order to reduce the pollution of wetlands and poisoning of wildfowl has been shown to be poor and morbidity and mortality remains high across Britain. Unfortunately a high profile campaign run by the shooting organisations to reduce illegal use of lead shot has been ineffective. A questionnaire survey of shooters’ behaviours and attitudes was undertaken to better understand the situation,
combined with a review of coverage of the subject area in the shooting media. Together with personal experiences of the authors, these highlight a number of sociological and political barriers that combine to inhibit both compliance with existing regulations and a transition to wider use of non-toxic ammunition. These barriers to change are set within a wider context of a long held perception in the shooting and wider field sports communities that ‘hunting is under threat’. The barriers are reinforced by the misperceptions that lead poisoning is not a problem for either wildlife or human health; and that non-toxic alternatives are not fit for purpose and/or too costly. There are cross-cutting issues of the regulations’ unenforceability, cultural traditions within the shooting communities, as well as polarised loyalties between key stakeholder groups, and mistrust of those outside these communities. In combination, this has led to issues of biased assimilation of information and solution aversion (meaning that the evidence is immaterial if the solution to the problem remains undesirable). There has also been a popular narrative in the field sports media
dismissing the evidence and discrediting the messengers. These barriers to change appear to have been supported by commercial interests and the political power of the field sports lobby including the ammunition manufacturers. In other countries, recognition of lead’s toxic impacts and transition to the use of non-toxic ammunition have been fully ‘owned’ by shooting communities working in combination with governments recognising joint responsibilities and interests. Within the UK, the polarisation of stakeholder groups has inhibited such ownership, and prevented
constructive collaborative working and the agreement of a common solution. It is argued that the opportunity for the conservation and shooting communities to work together on resolving problems was missed in the early stages of the existing regulations. Now, the atmosphere of the debate is likely non-conducive to those within the shooting community who might like to speak out in favour of a more sustainable lead-free approach to shooting. A range of ecological, economic and public relations benefits to making the transition to non-toxic ammunition are described. Whilst there are some costs to the shooting community, these are arguably outweighed by the costs of not changing.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventOxford Lead Symposium - Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Dec 201410 Dec 2014


ConferenceOxford Lead Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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