A five-year transition, not a one-year solution

Matt Cross

Matt Cross

A freelance fieldsports journalist and Shooting Times contributor based in a tiny village in the South West of Scotland. His writing focusses on key countryside issues and he runs his own blog 'Countryside Controversial'. In his monthly guest blogs for BASC, Matt comments on Wild Justice and the current climate surrounding fieldsports in the UK.

The contents of my gun cabinet might surprise you. Not the ramshackle collection of second hand ‘bargain’ shotguns and rifles I have acquired. By the time you had got far enough into my house to reach the cabinet, you might have realised that ramshackle and second hand are a bit of a theme.  What might surprise you is the contents of the various carrier bags and boxes of ammunition. It might surprise you, because this is a blog for BASC who are supporting the five-year transition away from lead and single-use plastics and because I’ve always been clear that lead has to go and that one way or another lead will go. But despite this, there is still quite a lot of lead ammunition in my cabinet.

There are a couple of reasons for this. There is one specific combination of chamber length, bore and pellet size where I have not been able to get non-lead ammunition yet. Whether it is manufactured or not it hasn’t filtered down the supply chain yet to my local gun shops. As demand grows that situation will be resolved by market forces. But the other reason is that like a lot of people, I fired a fraction of the cartridges last season that I might have expected, so the stock of lead which I might have alarmed pheasants with and then replaced with steel has sat untouched.


Change takes time, especially complicated change, where economics, technical factors and people’s behaviour are tangled up. A five-year transition away from lead and single-use plastics was never going to happen overnight, nor was it ever intended to and there is no doubt that this year’s disrupted game season has slowed the whole process down. Gun cabinets that might have been emptied of lead and restocked with steel are probably still three quarters full.

I suspect that in addition, people who knew their game shooting calendar was going to be very light chose to stick with familiarity. If they knew they were only going to shoot for a fraction of their normal number of days last season, they might not have wanted to change cartridge type during that time.

So it is no great surprise that a recently published study of pheasant carcasses found that the majority of them contained lead shot. Scientists bought 180 wild shot pheasants and removed and analysed any pellets in them. They found that 99 per cent of those birds had been shot with lead. Their conclusion was “that the shooting and rural organisations’ joint statement, and their subsequent promotional actions, have not yet had a detectable effect on the ammunition types used by shooters supplying pheasants to the British game market”. I can’t agree with them there. I see the changes –  one of my most hardened lead-loving friends told me he had bought  a tub of tungsten shot – if we are winning him round, we are winning everyone round. It is early days, but lead is starting to disappear from the shooting scene. In five years’ time it will be all but gone.

Wild Justice

Meanwhile Wild Justice, who insist that they are not an anti-shooting organisation, are testing a sample of game meat from Sainsbury’s. They have made great fuss about the independent laboratory they are using who will doubtless have been told to find the minutest traces of lead.  I’m going to spoil this for them – they are going to find traces of lead in many of their samples.  This will delight them and lead to endless blogs, tweets and press releases. Their aim is to get the words ‘British Game Alliance’ and ‘toxic’ to appear in the same sentence in the national media as often as possible. They want to do that because the kind of sensible, progressive, self-regulation that the five-year transition and the British Game Alliance represents is the greatest threat to Wild Justice’s agenda and they are desperate to snuff both out.

Good change comes about slowly

A year into the transition, most gamebirds are still being shot with lead. I think we could have predicted that and there is no doubt that the Covid-disrupted game season hasn’t helped. It’s important to remember that this is a five-year transition. Good change comes about slowly. It comes through the slow, detailed plod of sorting out technical and supply chain problems, letting people try things and develop confidence in them, having discussions, allaying fears and changing thinking. It doesn’t happen overnight.

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