In 2020, the cancellation of public firework displays due to stay-at-home coronavirus measures led to a huge boom in back-garden consumer firework sales and firework displays. Fireworks are synonymous with celebrations like New Year’s Eve and Bonfire Night, however, with the festive season approaching, are these fleeting explosions of colourful sparks illuminating the night sky really worth the distress and anxiety that unexpected firework noise can cause?
Opposition to fireworks arises from many different concerns, including animal welfare, air pollution, anti-social behaviour, and the welfare of those with conditions such as autism or difficulties with sensory processing.
It is against the law to set off fireworks between 11pm and 7am in the UK, but this legislation is insufficient in minimising the harmful impact of fireworks. Petitions calling for tighter restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks by the general public have attracted around 750,000 signatures in three years. Nevertheless, this demand is yet to be answered with a change to legislation, leaving campaigners increasingly dissatisfied with government inaction.
As a dog owner, I feel particularly strongly about the danger that fireworks pose to animal welfare and share the concern and dread that many pet owners across the country feel in the build-up to events like Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve. It is difficult to enjoy the spectacle of firework displays with a dog that is visibly threatened, upset, and restless, which makes the small pleasure of watching fireworks from the living room window seem futile and unjustified.
A recent poll conducted by the RSPCA found that sixty-two per cent of dogs, fifty-four per cent of cats and fifty-five per cent of horses show visible signs of distress in response to fireworks. The explosions let off by fireworks are perceived as a threat by pets, which may cause them to run, hide, bark, or show signs of stress and restlessness, while dogs are particularly vulnerable due to their sensitive hearing. This can cause further distress to both pet and owner if their pet gets lost or injured while trying to escape.
It may be the case that back-garden firework displays will have to be scaled back this year. In contrast to the surplus of fireworks on the market last year, Brexit and the supply chain crisis have left distributors warning that import problems have reduced the stock of pyrotechnics by up to seventy per cent, also forcing up retail prices as a result.
While this may cause initial disappointment for some, it provides an ideal opportunity to alter festive traditions, reducing the disruptive impact of fireworks without taking away the celebration. It is my view that the sale and use of fireworks should be limited to licensed public displays only, at certain times of the year. If this were the case, pet owners could plan the necessary arrangements to ensure their pets were as comfortable as possible, helping to protect vulnerable animals from the distress that many experience in response to indiscriminate firework explosions.
Festive celebrations don’t need fireworks to go off with a bang.