Fears for animals as restrictions prompt more DIY displays at home

The RSPCA fears that this fireworks season could be the worst in decades for animals as more people opt for DIY displays at home due to Covid-19 restrictions.

RSPCA polling has revealed that 21% of UK adults plan to hold a private display at home this year with 20% who plan to attend a private display at a friend’s or family’s home. This is nearly twice as many as in 2019 (11% and 12% respectively).

Every year, the RSPCA receives hundreds of calls about fireworks affecting animals. Over the last four years, the animal welfare charity has received 1,543 calls about fireworks. And their poll found 21% of UK adults reported owners, knowing or having heard about an animal that had tragically died as a result of fireworks.

In 2019, the charity launched its #BangOutOfOrder campaign calling for tighter controls and regulations around the sale and use of fireworks in a bid to help people and animals who suffer with fireworks phobias and noise aversion.

The campaign calls for:

  • The restriction of the private use of fireworks to agreed traditional dates (November 5, New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year and Diwali)
  • The maximum permitted noise level of fireworks for public sale to be reduced to 90 decibels. The current allowed level, 120 decibels (equivalent to a jet aircraft taking off) should only be used at licenced public displays
  • All public fireworks displays should be licensed by the relevant licensing authority and information about the proposed display must be provided in the local area several weeks in advance with a process for local residents to appeal against the granting of the licence. This process should also apply to people seeking to hold private displays at special events such as weddings
  • We would also like to see fireworks labelled as ‘loud’ or ‘low noise’ to allow consumers to make an informed decision if they do buy fireworks.

The RSPCA found 85% of UK adults think public firework displays should be licensed, and there has been wide public support for calls for private displays to be limited to specific dates to reduce the impact on people and animals who find fireworks frightening and stressful.

However, animal welfare experts fear this could go out of the window this year as lockdown prompts the cancellation of public displays and people choose to set off fireworks at home instead.

RSPCA animal welfare expert Dr Mark Kennedy said: “We understand that people enjoy celebrating Bonfire Night, New Year’s Eve and other key dates with fireworks and we don’t want to spoil the fun. Unfortunately, lockdown measures this year mean that very few organised, public displays are likely to go ahead, and we suspect this means lots of families will be choosing to have their own displays at home.

“Due to the Rule of Six and the restrictions on households mixing, we fear there will be lots of little displays taking place over weeks and weeks, spreading out fireworks noise and causing prolonged distress for animals. We’d urge people to be considerate and keep neighbours and animals, including those with nearby horses and livestock, informed of plans well in advance so they can make preparations to reduce the stress to their animals.”

In their poll, only 49% of UK adults say they think about the impact of fireworks can have on local animals but 71% agree that the noise from fireworks can negatively impact their welfare.

Dr Mark Kennedy added: “Fireworks are extremely stressful and frightening for lots of animals. But they can also cause very serious injury and even death to some. It can be particularly dangerous for horses and livestock who can be spooked by the loud bangs and bright flashes of light, putting them at risk of injuring themselves on fencing, farm equipment or fixtures and fittings within their housing.

“The British Horse Society reports 23 deaths and 166 injuries in horses due to fireworks incidents since 2010. Last November, RSPCA officers were called out to Bryn Celyn in Wales to help a horse called Harry who had been found impaled on a fence post having been spooked by fireworks and needed emergency veterinary treatment.

“Wildlife can also be seriously impacted by bonfires and fireworks. Wild animals, like hedgehogs are at risk of being burn alive after making their homes inside bonfires and piles of leaves, while some birds will flee their nests or whole colonies can disappear due to noise disturbance.”

To support the #BangOutofOrder campaign you can visit the RSPCA website and send a letter to your local council to put forward changes.