A razorbill - one of the species of birds targeted in the Canadian seabird hunts
A guillemot in summer plumage
We pick up thousands of shotgun wads on the beaches of the Rame Peninsula and, to a lesser extent, cartridge cases.
Given the numbers and the distribution of where these wash up around the British Isles (with large numbers on Atlantic-facing beaches), it is likely that much of this shooting-related debris floats across the Atlantic to us from in Canada, where at least 200,000 guillemots and other seabirds are shot in a licensed hunt at sea each year in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Some may also be historic waste from clay pigeon shoots from the back of cruise ships, although very few cruise lines still offer this activity.
Some will also be generated fairly locally though – given that a staggering 30 million+ pheasants alone are raised and released in the UK each year for shooting on over 2,000 hunting estates.
Shotgun wadding does not have to be made of plastic. Biodegradable wads, made from paper, card or felt, are available. Many shoots in the UK do require biodegradable wadding to be used, as there have been instances of livestock dying after swallowing plastic wads.
However, despite the Countryside Alliance’s Code of Good Shooting Practice stating that “Guns should use cartridges with degradable wads where possible and all cartridge cases and other litter should be removed after each shoot,” over half of the cartridges offered for sale in this country have plastic wads. Some shotgun enthusiasts claim that the plastic wadding performs better.
Since shotgun wads fly tens of metres away from the shooter it can be virtually impossible to retrieve them at shoots where each hunter’s bag limit may be several hundred birds.
At sea or in shoots over rivers and wetlands (ultimately leading to the sea), it is impossible to retrieve plastic shotgun wadding.
A special kind of biodegradable plastic wadding, which genuinely does biodegrade in sea water, has been developed by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in the United States. You can read more about it here: http://www.vims.edu/ccrm/research/marine_debris/solutions/wads/index.php
Given that shotgun wads are impossible to retrieve in shoots at sea or over rivers, should the use of plastic ones be regarded as deliberate littering?