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Department of Zoology

Lead shot pellets taken from a dissected pheasant

During the 2020-2021 pheasant shooting season 99.4% of 180 pheasants from which shotgun pellets were recovered had been killed using toxic lead shotgun ammunition. This is despite a call by nine UK shooting and rural organisations who joined together a year ago to issue a statement saying that they wanted to see a complete voluntary transition from toxic lead to non-toxic shotgun ammunition for hunting within five years “in consideration of wildlife, the environment and to ensure a market for the healthiest game products”.

A group of scientists led by the Department of Zoology’s Rhys Green and Debbie Pain, along with Mark Taggart from the University of the Highlands and Islands, conducted a study during the last shooting season;1 October 2020 to 1 February 2021. They dissected carcasses of wild-shot pheasants sold or offered for human consumption in Britain to recover shotgun pellets. The principal metallic element composing one pellet from each bird was identified using inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry. 

The results have now been published in the journal Conservation Evidence and showed just a 0.6% reduction in the use of lead shot compared with 100% in a much smaller study conducted in the 2008/2009 shooting season, well before the call for a phase-out. It seems that that the shooting and rural organisations’ joint statement, and their subsequent promotional actions, have not yet had any detectable effect on the ammunition types used by shooters supplying pheasants to the British game market. 

This paper is the first publication of results of the SHOT-SWITCH project. More information on the objectives and methods of the project are available on the website of the Environmental Research Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands,Thurso, UK at:

The paper was published this week in the Conservation Evidence Journal

Green R.E., Taggart M.A., Pain D.J., Clark N.A., Clewley L., Cromie R., Elliot B., Green R.M.W., Huntley B., Huntley J., Leslie R., Porter R., Robinson J.A., Smith K.W., Smith L., Spencer J. & Stroud D. (2021) Effect of a joint policy statement by nine UK shooting and rural organisations on the use of lead shotgun ammunition for hunting common pheasants Phasianus colchicus in Britain. Conservation Evidence, 18, 1-9

You can also listen to Rhys Green discussing the project on BBC Inside Science (starting at 17 mins)

Photo credit: Rhys Green.