In the first century CE Dioscorides – a physician in Nero’s army – observed that “ Lead makes the mind give way ”. The toxicity of lead has been understood for millennia.As we further our scientific understanding of lead toxicity we have discoveredthat even low levels of lead are toxic to humans 1 and other animals. 2 In theUK, lead was banned from use in petrol, paint and water pipes decades ago, with most other uses strictly controlled. Lead ammunition (gunshot and bullets) remains a glaring and largely unregulated exception. In England, even the limited restrictions from 1999 banning certain uses of lead gunshot are largely ignored. 3 At least 5000 tonnes of lead ammunition are deposited into the UK environment annually, 4 accumulating a toxic legacy and causing suffering and death to large numbers of birds. As well as polluting the environment, lead ammunition often fragments on hitting an animal, leaving tiny lead particles in the animal’s tissues. These fragments can then be eaten by predatory or scavenging birds or by people eating the game meat. Waterbirds (like ducks, swans and geese) and terrestrial gamebirds (like pheasants and partridges) eat spent lead gunshot directly, mistakenly for grit or food, whereas predatory or scavenging birds (like eagles or kites) eat ammunition or lead fragments in the flesh of injured or dead game animals. Once absorbed, lead can paralyse muscles, affect behaviour and reproduction, and when enough is absorbed it kills. An estimated 50,000-100,000 wildfowl die of lead poisoning each winter in the UK 4 along with many more terrestrial birds, and lead likely affects the populations of some threatened species, like the Common Pochard. People who frequently eat game shot with lead ammunition are also at risk, especially children and pregnant women. Numerous scientific studies have identified an association between increased levels of lead in the blood and reduced IQ in children. The European Food Safety Authority concluded that "efforts should continue to reduce lead exposure from all sources". 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 This poisoning is unnecessary. Effective alternatives to lead ammunition already exist. Denmark banned the use of lead gunshot for all shooting (game and targets) as long ago as 1996. 9 It is time for the UK to catch up and stop lead ammunition from polluting the environment and poisoning wildlife and people. A total ban on the use of lead ammunition will benefit wildlife, people and the environment. 


1. Hanninen, H., Aitio, A., Kovala, T., Luukkonen, R., Matikainen, E., Mannelin, T., Erkkilä, J., Riihimaki, V. (1998). Occupational exposure to lead and neuropsychological dysfunction.
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2. Gandley, R., Anderson, L., Silbergeld, E.K. (1999). Lead: Male-Mediated Effects on Reproduction and Development in the Rat.
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3. Cromie, R.L., A. Loram, L. Hurst, M. O’Brien, J. Newth, M.J. Brown & J.P. Harradine (2010). Compliance with the Environmental Protection (Restrictions on Use of Lead Shot)(England) Regulations 1999. Report to Defra, Bristol, p. 99
4. Pain, D.J., Cromie, R.L., Green, R.E. (2015). Poisoning of birds and other wildlife from ammunition-derived lead in the UK. In: Delahay RJ, Spray CJ (eds). Proceedings of the Oxford Lead Symposium. Lead ammunition: understanding and minimising the risks to human and environmental health. Edward Grey Institute, The University of Oxford. pp 58-84.
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6. Green, R.E., Pain, D.J. (2015) Risks of health effects to humans in the UK from ammunition-derived lead. In: Delahay RJ, Spray CJ (eds). Proceedings of the Oxford Lead Symposium. Lead ammunition: understanding and minimising the risks to human and environmental health. Edward Grey Institute, The University of Oxford. pp 27-43. Available at:
7. Reuben, A., Caspi, A., Belsky, D.W., Broadbent, J., Harrington, H., Sugden, K., Moffitt, T.E. (2017). Association of Childhood Blood Lead Levels With Cognitive Function and Socioeconomic Status at Age 38 Years and With IQ Change and Socioeconomic Mobility Between Childhood and Adulthood. JAMA, 317(12): 1244
8. Grandjean, P., Landrigan, P.J. (2014). Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity.
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9. Kanstrup, N. (2006). Non-toxic shot – Danish experiences. Waterbirds around the world. Eds. G.C. Boere, C.A. Galbraith & D.A. Stroud. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, UK. p. 861 Available at: 27/08/2018)