For many years, governments have tried to reduce the exposure of people and wildlife to lead in the environment. Eliminating leaded petrol is one of the best known steps taken to reduce environmental pollution by toxic metals and to reduce the health risks to people and other animals.
After the implementation of these measures, lead in ammunition is now one of the main remaining source of lead inputs to the environment to which wildlife is exposed. Reducing the use of lead in ammunition is a controversial issue that has become an entrenched conflict, largely played out between conservation and shooting organisations, despite their shared interests in wildlife conservation.
As hotly debated as the issue of lead ammunition has been, no-one has explored in detail how shooters themselves see the issue.
In this study, 30 regular shooters were asked to describe their views on the use of lead ammunition and its potential impacts on wildlife and humans. Two distinct perspectives were identified within the shooting community. One group of shooters was ‘Open to change’ – they believed that solutions to reduce the risks of poisoning were needed; were happy to use non-lead alternatives; and did not associate phasing out of lead shot with the demise of shooting. The other group of shooters preferred the ‘Status quo’ – they did not regard lead poisoning as a major welfare problem for wild birds; were ambivalent about the need for solutions; felt that lead shot is better than steel at killing and not wounding an animal; and believed that opposition to lead ammunition is driven more by a dislike of shooting than evidence of any harm.
Both perspectives agreed that lead was a toxic substance, that opinions from all sides of the debate should be included in the decision-making process, and that information about lead poisoning should come from within the shooting community.
This is the first robust study of perspectives of shooting participants about the use of lead ammunition. It is not an opinion poll, but reveals that, even within this community, there are marked differences of opinion between those who prefer to stick with lead and those who see a future without it. Seeing diversity of opinion within this key stakeholder group may help move the lead debate forward and enable the creation of new solutions and adaptation of practices.