Lead ammunition restriction proposals: what happens next?

Conor O'Gorman

Conor O'Gorman

Conor O’Gorman has worked in a variety of conservation, policy and campaigning roles at BASC over the last 16 years. A zoology graduate with a PhD awarded for grey partridge research, he has over 25 years’ experience in conservation and land management.

BASC’s Dr Conor O’Gorman gives an initial overview of the Health and Safety Executive’s proposed restrictions for lead ammunition in England, Wales and Scotland under the UK REACH regulations.

Lead restriction dossier published

Today, 6 May, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published its findings on the risks posed by the outdoor recreational use of lead ammunition for people, wildlife and the environment in England, Wales and Scotland.

Based on these findings the HSE has launched a six-month consultation on the following proposals for England, Wales and Scotland:

  • ban on the sale of lead shot
  • ban on the use of all types of lead ammunition for live quarry shooting including lead shot, shotgun slugs, lead bullets and airgun pellets
  • ban on the use of lead shot for outdoor target shooting with possible exemptions for licensed athletes at licensed ranges with appropriate environmental protection measures
  • ban on the use of lead bullets for outdoor target shooting with possible exemptions for shooting at licensed ranges with appropriate environmental protection measures
  • mandatory labelling of the packaging of lead ammunition regarding the hazards and risks of lead.

Proposed transition periods for the above restrictions to take effect would vary from 18 months to five years. Buy-back schemes for lead shot cartridges and rifle ammunition have been proposed.

This largely mirrors the lead ammunition restrictions proposed in the European Union last year as part of the EU REACH process.

Why is this happening?

The proposals and consultation are taking place under the UK’s post-Brexit chemical regulations referred to as UK REACH which covers England, Wales and Scotland (but not Northern Ireland due to the NI Protocol).

The HSE has been tasked as the ‘agency’ under UK REACH to produce a report that outlines the risks posed by lead ammunition. Where it believes those risks to be unacceptable, it has also been asked to propose restrictions to reduce those risks.

Under UK REACH a two-year lead ammunition review launched in March 2021 and this was followed by a call for evidence from August to October 2021.

What is BASC doing?

Working closely with the Gun Trade Association, UK ammunition manufacturers and the British Shooting Sports Council, BASC will ensure that the needs of both live quarry and target shooting interests are considered in our response to the public consultation.

In the next two weeks we will publish further details about the findings and proposals, including advice and guidance to help members to respond to the consultation. Member feedback will also be used to help shape BASC’s response to the consultation.

A key principle is that further legal restrictions on lead ammunition must not be imposed until effective and affordable types of non-lead ammunition are available in sufficient volumes to meet demand.

BASC and the other shooting organisations will need to assess whether current exemptions are sufficient, and if not seek further exemptions where there is evidence that there are no viable alternatives to lead, where socio-economic factors mean a transition isn’t appropriate and for situations where lead can continue to be used in settings that present negligible or no risk to wildlife, the environment or human health.

Where evidence-based, proportionate restrictions are proposed, it will be critical that appropriate transition periods are secured. The timelines must be realistic, and guided by the shooting sector, to ensure that the range of products and their supply can meet market demands. These transitions must take into account the current issues in the global supply chain affecting all sectors.

What happens next?

First and foremost, it’s important to stress that the dossier is a set of proposals, it is not legislation at this point in time.

Over the coming months the UK REACH process will involve scientific scrutiny of the HSE findings and proposals through an independent panel of experts.

BASC has been approved as an accredited stakeholder by HSE and we will have opportunity to observe, engage and challenge the internal scrutiny process.

A draft socio-economic opinion on the impact of the HSE proposals will follow later this year or early 2023, which will also be open to public consultation.

The review will culminate in recommendations being submitted no later than April 2023 to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for consideration.

A legislative proposal will be likely thereafter subject to parliamentary scrutiny and consultation with devolved administrations. We therefore do not expect any restrictions to take effect before 2025.

Restrictions must be evidence-based and proportionate

BASC will ensure that the UK REACH process objectively evaluates the evidence and that the recommendations submitted to the Secretary of State next year consider the complex mix of socio-economics, technical factors and attitudes.

If we have concerns that the resulting legislative proposals are disproportionate and will damage shooting, we will lobby for them to be revised.

There will of course be others that will be satisfied with nothing short of a complete ban on lead ammunition and they will be lobbying to that end. The political stage of the process will no doubt be challenging.

The HSE must avoid the failure of the EU REACH process for further restrictions in wetlands which has not listened to the shooting, land management, conservation and farming communities and produced unreasonable and unworkable regulations.

Continued engagement with the shooting sector is critical to ensure that the recommendations are proportionate, feasible and enforceable while recognising the significant investment and time required to produce alternatives to lead ammunition.

Click here to view the consultation documents

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