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Environmental and social dynamics of lead ammunition use. PhD in Geography (NERC GW4 + DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Dr Sarah Crowley, Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Dr Julia Newth, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
Prof Richard Shore, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Prof Robbie McDonald, Department of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Location: University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

- A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
- Payment of university tuition fees;
- A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
- A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
- Travel and accommodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
- No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter

Project Background

Lead ammunition is still widely used in the UK, despite growing international concern about its environmental and health impacts. However, after centuries of use, things are on the cusp of change, with the ‘lead debate’ at a crossroads (Cromie et al., 2019). Recent research by this team (Newth et al., 2019) has identified diversity in the perspectives and practices of ammunition users and, at this pivotal moment, there is an urgent need to better understand how topographical, ecological and social factors interact to produce, reduce, and remediate environmental contamination. This interdisciplinary project will investigate spatial and behavioural variation and change in the use, distribution, and impacts of both lead and non-toxic ammunition. Combining innovative approaches from geography and environmental sciences, the student will develop skills in ecotoxicology, ecosystem health assessment and contemporary social research methods, as well as experience working at the science/policy interface. The collaborative CASE partnership will involve working with specialists at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and engaging constructively with ammunition users and shooting organisations in a range of contexts.

Project Aims and Methods

This project aims to understand how variations in shooting sites and practices affect the distribution and impacts of lead in the landscape, providing evidence to inform best practice and policy recommendations in relation to ammunition use. It also offers opportunities to examine the impacts of both lead and non-toxic shot on different species and habitats (e.g. gamebird and wildlife exposure, wounding rates, and plastic pollution), and investigate the environmental effects and social processes of transitioning from lead to non-toxic ammunition. The project is expected to integrate natural and social scientific research methods, and the student will have the opportunity to develop project scope and direction. The project will involve extensive field research in the UK, including (i) analysis of soil and shot composition to quantify and map vertical and spatial distributions of lead and non-toxic shot, (ii) assessing the shooting accuracy of ammunition users using different shot types (using clays), (iii) soft tissue, bone, and gizzard content analysis to determine levels of lead and non-toxic shot in shot game-birds, and (iv) case study research focusing on experiences and outcomes for individuals and shoots transitioning from lead to non-toxic ammunition. There are also opportunities to conduct comparative case research in Denmark and the USA.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20.


References / Background reading list

- Cromie, R. L. Newth, J. L. & Strong, E. 2019. Transitioning to non-toxic ammunition: making change happen. Ambio, doi:10.1007/s13280-019-01204-y
- Delahay, R. J. & Spray, C. J. 2015. Proceedings of the Oxford Lead Symposium. Lead Ammunition: understanding and minimising the risks to human and environmental health. Edward Grey Institute, The University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
- Available online:
- Kanstrup, N., Thomas, V. G., Fox, A. D. 2019. Special Issue - Lead in Hunting Ammunition: Persistent Problems and Solutions. Ambio 48 (9). The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden.
- Available online: ﷟HYPERLINK ""
- Newth, J. L., Lawrence, A., Cromie, R.L., Swift, J.A., Rees, E.C., Wood, K.A., Strong, E.A., Reeves, J. & McDonald, R.A. 2019. Perspectives of ammunition users on the use of lead ammunition and its potential impacts on wildlife and humans. People and Nature, doi:10.1002/pan3.30
- Available online:

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