Environmental and social dynamics of lead ammunition use. PhD in Geography (NERC GW4 + DTP) Ref: 3678

About the award


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 http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

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 accomodation 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


Students who are resident in EU countries are eligible for the full award on the same basis as UK residents.  Applicants resident outside of the EU (classed as International for tuition fee purposes) are not eligible for DTP funding. Residency rules are complex and if you have not been resident in the UK or EU for the 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, please apply and we will check eligibility upon shortlisting.

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. 

Lead ammunition is still widely used in the UK, despite concern about its environmental impacts. (Photo by Fieldsports Channel, CC BY-SA 2.0)

A mallard Anas platyrhynchos in flight. (Photo by Bert de Tilley, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Candidate Requirements

The project will suit a student interested in a career in applied environmental or conservation science. The student will need to develop and apply a range of research skills, including both natural and social scientific methods. The work will require a willingness to carry out both field and laboratory research and to constructively engage with ammunition users and other key stakeholders.

CASE or Collaborative Partner

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) is the CASE partner and will contribute a rich knowledge and understanding of impact-relevant research, appropriate methodologies, policy context and stakeholder perspectives. The student will have access to staff with a suite of interdisciplinary skills and contacts, working in the fields of ecosystem health, species ecology, social science and policy. WWT has an established communication team which will support the dissemination of project outputs to a wide audience. GW4+ collaborative partner, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), will provide statutory advice that supports policy and regulation in relation to environmental contaminants, and the student will be exposed to current techniques in ecotoxicological surveillance and reporting to regulatory authorities.


Project partners at Exeter, CEH and the WWT will provide broad-based training in key environmental and social research methods, including ecosystem health assessment; ecotoxicology; ammunition user surveys; and comparative case studies. There are also opportunities for specialist training in tissue and gizzard content analyses, stable isotope analysis, scanning electron microscopy, animal welfare assessments, and participatory research.

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: http://www.oxfordleadsymposium.info/wp-content/uploads/OLS_proceedings/papers/OLS_proceedings_opening_pages.pdf
  • 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: https://link.springer.com/journal/13280/48/9 ﷟HYPERLINK "https://link.springer.com/journal/13280/48/9"
  • 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: https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/pan3.30

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project http://www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply/english/

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

  • CV
  • Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English.

Reference information
You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process, however we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the pgr-recruitment@exeter.ac.uk, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is 1600 hours GMT Monday 6 January 2020.  Interviews will be held between 10 and 21 February 2020.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit https://nercgw4plus.ac.uk

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing
During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  • the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  • administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.


Application deadline:6th January 2020
Value:£15,009 per annum for 2019-20
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk