Littering is one of my pet-hates. This reminds me: I’ve said that before, during the first COVID-19 lockdown in the first series of ‘Outdoor Daily’ (now, there is consistency for you…).
Anyway, littering is unnecessary, careless, inconsiderate, unsightly, polluting, damaging to wildlife…need I say more?
The featured image shows a common occurrence in the Tamar Valley, where my daily walks with my dog T’isker take place these days. They are the plastic skeletons of shotgun cartridges and their contents. I find them in fields and along hedgerows, on field margins and in the reed beds of the estuary and the beaches of the Cornish coastline.
Likely sources are people using shotguns for controlling vermin (rabbits, rats, perhaps some crop-threatening birds) and people shooting for fun (pheasant and partridge, also rabbit and wild geese).
Question is: how many of the people using shotguns and other guns in the countryside are actually picking up their spent cartridges?
My friend Alan told me that it is a no-no to not pick up your spent cartridges…
Between 2008 and 2019, UK sales of cartridges and other ammunition were worth between a stunning £51000000 and an even more stunning £79000000. Wow! I don’t know whether this includes ammunition for the police (I doubt it) or the armed services (I doubt that even more).
Let’s just have a little back-of-the-envelope calculation:
- say 50% of the money spent is on shotgun cartridges for use in nature (around £30 million)
- perhaps people buy large volume to get a discount, and popular brands go for £200 – £300 per 1000 cartridges
- so, at around £250 per 1000 rounds, that makes around 120 million individual shotgun cartridges
Perhaps that calculation is inaccurate, so I’ll try another one:
- some 60 million game birds are reared and released into the wild every year by the industry, around half of which are killed during organised shoots
- that’s 30 million dead birds, perhaps that means 30 million cartridges fired, but I guess it is more like four or more times that number (Alan also told me that a 1:4 hit rate is pretty good)
- so, that leaves around 120 million shotgun cartridges spent on shooting pheasants and partridge on organised shoots
- the rest of the cartridges are fired elsewhere, for other purposes
Either way, we are talking tens of millions of shotgun cartridges fired each year.
How many of the spent cartridges are being picked up? 30 million? 60 million? Most of them?
Either way, there is a mountain of waste generated, including valuable resources for recycling (e.g. metal from the primer)
What happens to those that are left in the landscape? Well, they contain quite a mix of stuff:
- A plastic (sometimes paper) case
- Primer (the metal end of the cartridge, steel or brass)
- Propellant (the powder that goes ‘bang’)
- Wad (plastic, cork or fibre – determines how the shot disperses)
- Shot (metal pellets in steel or lead, containing 2-5% antimony, perhaps some nickel or copper coating)
I guess the propellant will get burned and becomes atmospheric pollution, the shot finishes up in the game and on the ground or in the water, the primer, wad and the plastic case drops to the ground or in the water near the gun. That’s a lot of plastic and metal introduced to nature…antimony is quite toxic and so is nickel is.
The good news: there are shotgun cartridge collectors on the market, so I guess some people pick up after themselves. Perhaps a well organised shoot will lay down some rules and see that they are followed. There is a legislative move from lead shot to using steel, which is less toxic and more inert in the environment and therefore less polluting. And the use of plastic wad is increasingly frowned upon, again something that could be encouraged by rules on well managed shoots.
The bad news: I keep finding these debris in nature…and so do other people:
Featured image: plastic shotgun cartridge wads in the reed bed of the Tamar estuary, UK.