Are WWT Concerned About Accurate Science?


The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) was founded by men who shot, men who were Wildfowlers, by sportsmen who pursued duck, geese and waders around coastal Britain. Peter Scott, son of Scott of the Antarctic formed the idea for such an organisation whilst still an active wildfowler, though he later decided to give up shooting for moral reasons.

The showpiece of the WWT is Slimbridge which was the home to both the WWT, Peter Scott and his family from soon after the formation of the Severn Wildfowl Trust in 1946 through name changes to The Wildfowl Trust until finally the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. The trust in all its guises has done much pioneering and important work with the conservation and preservation of Wildfowl, much based on its own scientific research.

In the 1970s the WWT became more interested in wildfowl suffering from lead poisoning (first brought to notice in the 1930s in the USA). The lack of good scientific study to exactly determine the source of lead that caused the lead poisoning resulted in the finger of blame being pointed at spent lead shot from shooting activities as well as small split lead shot used by anglers, both of which were sometimes found in the gizzards of wildfowl suffering from lead poisoning (as well as in those which were not carrying heavy lead burdens).

Since that time much work has been done in this field and those who wish for shooting to be banned appear to have jumped upon the WWT and others’ studies as absolute fact despite there being no actual “proof” that spent lead shot is the actual source of lead in the wildfowl’s blood stream.

From the 1990s stabilised Lead isotope marker Data analysis has been available to actually determine the exact source of lead in a variety of both environmental and physical bodies. It has been used by the Food Standards Agency here in UK  to determine the exact geographical source of lead in sheep and cattle (ingested from the grass eaten from areas with high natural levels of lead ion compounds in the soil). This study from  2015 makes for interesting reading.

You also have studies done on wildfowl. One in particular was conducted as a study into lead poisoning of Mute Swans in the North of Poland by Lukasz J Binkowski in 2016 and it actually claims to prove that the initial suspect for the lead poisoning of the Mute Swans, spent lead shot, was not in fact the source of the lead in their bodies.

There are other studies of wildfowl in the Caspian and Eider ducks in the Baltic  which again show, through the use of Stabilised Lead isotope marker analysis that despite suffering from acute lead poisoning the source was not spent lead shot

Having read most of these papers I was curious why the WWT had not used this sort of analysis in their work on this contentious subject?

So I wrote to Professor Green, Dr Debbie Pain and Dr Ruth Cromie, all of whom have published work on this subject, and are affiliated to WWT (as well as some of them being described as “good friends” to the group Wild Justice led by the TV personality Chris Packham – an organisation seemingly determined to stop all Fieldsports) about the proof they possessed that spent lead shot was the actual source of lead poisoning in wildfowl. The replies I received were vague and patronising as well as evasive – all pointed me to the base research from the 1980s and before.

This was very frustrating but not unexpected.

However one of the scientists at WWT, Dr  Julia Newth, who I saw on the BBC’s Countryfile programme in 2021 was actually helpful and seemingly not as “professionally evasive” as her colleagues. Despite her  claims on Countryfile (which cannot be substantiated) about 100,000 wildfowl dying in the UK each year as a result of ingesting spent lead shot etc. So I wrote to her and asked her the same questions I had to her colleagues. Dr Newth at first was as evasive in her answers as the others but once I involved my MP in the conversation she became much more forthcoming and admitted that she and “all scientists“ felt it was reasonable to assume that spent lead shot was the source of lead poisoning in wildfowl especially as lead shot, often in multiples, was found in the wildfowl’s digestive system and there was no other obvious source of lead in the environment the wildfowl were found in. This seemed akin to saying it is reasonable to assume that all fatalities found inside vehicles at road traffic accidents were killed by seat belts as they, in the main, were wearing them when killed.

Now I found this statement extraordinary as it seems to me that the WWT and its scientists have at best circumstantial evidence around the role of spent lead shot and lead poisoning in wildfowl. I asked Dr Newth if the WWT performed Stabilised Lead isotope marker analysis to confirm the exact source of lead in wildfowl. She replied that they did not as the testing was too expensive. I then offered to fundraise for such testing to be done; Dr Newth replied that they could not do that as it would be a waste of the WWT’s scientists’ charitable time.

I then wrote, as a member of the WWT, asking why this should be so and I was firmly told I had to make an official complaint, which I did reluctantly, resulting in the WWT saying their science was good and there was no need to prove it with Stabilised Lead isotope marker analysis. However both Dr Newth and the WWT suggested I could employ independent scientists to conduct such research if I wished. The only problem being the WWT appear to be the only organisation with regular access to wildfowl suffering from lead poisoning and they did not offer any assistance should I organise such research, therefore squashing the chance of such research having much chance of credibility.

I had at the same time contacted Rob Beeson and Dr Mike Swan of the GWCT and asked if they would conduct such research if I raised sufficient money to fund it.

Neither replied.

So here we are.

The government , REACH and the EU are using the work of and recommendations of WWT ‘s science to push for a ban on all lead ammunition, the 9 organisations who want to phase out Lead in ammunition are also relying on it yet it would appear that there is absolutely no verifiable evidence to actually support the WWT’s assertions.

The stabilised lead isotope marker analysis is a modern and useful specific tool which can isolate the exact source of the lead in the environment as well as in all living bodies, so why won’t the Government sponsor such research, through say WWT (if that was also not considered a waste of their charitable time?) so that there is more accurate scientific proof of the suffering caused to wildfowl etc as a result of lead poisoning .

If the blame is just levelled at spent lead shot and it turns out the actual source lies elsewhere it will mean the WWT is possibly condoning as well as prolonging the suffering of millions of wildfowl (as they claim) just so that the friends of their scientists Wild Justice can achieve what many see as their bitter, politically motivated aims.

Science is evidence-led so why is the WWT avoiding one of the best scientific tools available to them for studying this subject?

Mark Crudgington is a 2nd generation gunmaker, at large in Wiltshire. His company George Gibbs Ltd is nearing its 200th birthday. A passionate shot, angler, deer stalker and natural sceptic.