Comparison of the lethality of lead and copper bullets in deer control operations to reduce incidental lead poisoning; field trials in England and Scotland

  • Published source details Knott J., Gilbert J., Green R.E. & Hoccom D.G. (2009) Comparison of the lethality of lead and copper bullets in deer control operations to reduce incidental lead poisoning; field trials in England and Scotland. Conservation Evidence, 6, 71-78.


Legislative controls on the use of lead gunshot over wetland areas have been introduced in many countries, including the UK, in order to reduce lead poisoning in waterfowl following ingestion of spent shot. Effective alternatives to lead shot are widely available. However, there is evidence that the problem also affects wildlife in terrestrial ecosystems and that lead bullets are a source of contamination for scavenging birds and mammals. With this in mind, copper bullets were trialled at three varied UK sites during deer control operations undertaken to achieve nature conservation objectives. Their accuracy and killing power were recorded and compared to that of traditional lead bullets. No significant differences were found in accuracy or killing power. These results, coupled with experience elsewhere, suggest that copper bullets are a viable alternative to lead bullets. If this is confirmed in all situations, we consider further restrictions on the use of lead ammunition, designed to encourage a switch to non-toxic ammunition across terrestrial habitats, to be a proportionate response to the problems associated with lead ingestion.

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