Birds Die, Horses Panic, Wildlife Suffers. Humans Setting off Fireworks Terrify and Kill.

Often when I mention to people about the many groups that are negatively impacted by fireworks, I’ll say, “Imagine all the wild animals when fireworks go off. They have no shelter – horses, sheep, hedgehogs, birds…It must be terrifying for them when there is no natural sound like this – and they have no warning..” And so many people say, “I hadn’t thought of that.” 

Well here’s to get us all thinking about that. Often as humans, we focus on actions that impact humans. With fireworks, the government will say they are set at a safe decibel range (which incidentally does not seem to be agreed is safe by hearing charities) – but of course this is for humans. Not animals, with whom we share the planet – and are all part of our ecosystem.

Here’s the summary for those that won’t read on, but others please do: Thousands of birds have died from heart attacks or through panic and flying into things, when fireworks go off. Horses have bolted, some impaled. Hedgehogs been tied to fireworks and shot into the air. We are in a climate emergency where we have already lost 60% of the UK’s wildlife population. It’s not only humans on this planet. Take action – write to your MP and town councillors, tell people not to do them, sign every petition.

So, for everyone that continued, here is what you need to know..

Animals have a far higher hearing range. Their hearing is far more sensitive than ours. Dogs for example, can hear sounds 4 times farther away than we can and higher pitch sounds too. Birds can hear a wider range of sounds than humans and have better resolution than human hearing, so they hear much more detail and what is not loud to us can be loud and clear to them. Our beloved hedgehogs, who already are struggling at a tiny percentage of population compared to what they were, according to Louisiana State University, “Have a hearing frequency range between 250 and 45,000 Hz…it’s much higher than the human range of 23,000 Hz.” So all those sounds that are ‘OK’ to us (but are not really ok, if you read our other blogs regarding humans impacted), are that much worse, terrifying and unknown for animals. Fireworks aren’t natural. The only vaguely similar natural sound in the wild is thunder and that doesn’t go as high, as loud, nor like gunshots and everything else under the moon. How confusing would that be to you, if you were out in nature happily tucked up for the night, when something like that goes off??

We are in a climate emergency. According to the State of Nature Report, and a Guardian article in Oct 2019, about it, “Populations of the UK’s most important wildlife have plummeted by an average of 60% since 1970, according to the most comprehensive analysis to date…A quarter of UK mammals and nearly half of the birds assessed are at risk of extinction.” And apparently there are no signs of this getting better. Doesn’t this highlight that we humans need to protect the delicate habitat in which we live? Everything comes together – the different species need each other in the ecosystem. Stopping fireworks is one easy way!

So how are animals affected by fireworks – and particularly wildlife?

Let’s take a look at birds. Fireworks scare birds. Let’s not mess about with it. And particularly in winter, birds roost together on the cold nights. When fireworks go off they panic. Some research was done in the Netherlands on this and an article in Forbes refers to the impact on birds, of fireworks. “When a fireworks display occurs near a wild bird roost, the birds simultaneously explode into the night skies in utter panic, which can lead to huge numbers of deaths, usually because these birds either smash their skulls or break their necks as the result of flying into trees, fences, billboards, houses and other solid objects that they cannot see in the gloom and ensuing chaos. Probably the most infamous example of massive bird deaths after a fireworks display were the 5,000+ dead or dying red-winged blackbirds that rained down from the skies onto the small Arkansas town of Beebe in 2010, leading some residents to fear an impending apocalypse.” How dreadful. Half of birds are disappearing and we do this to them – and for no real benefit to us other than a few minutes’ ‘entertainment’? Aren’t their lives valuable, each and every one? We can find other ways to be entertained when lives are at risk. In Prague, they banned fireworks in the city centre, as swans were dying from heart attacks because of them. A friend from Prague said how awful it was to see birds lying dead on the ground in the morning after fireworks. 

A town in England – Bideford, after many complaints and petitions, did decide to change its plans for fireworks in order to protect roosts of starlings in 2019/2020. Good on you Bideford council. 

Horses are often very scared by fireworks and there are many examples of horses that have bolted and then been injured or worse, died because of fireworks. There was one example reported, just this last year at fireworks. The horse, Harry tried to bolt when it heard fireworks and impaled itself on the fence. A document on fireworks by the British Horse Society says, “Horses are flight animals and anything unexpected will startle them. The response will vary greatly according to the individual horse, but reactions can be extremely dramatic and potentially dangerous for the horse or anyone close by. [Fireworks] produce loud bangs, crackles, sudden strange lights and a burning smell.”

Apart from the sounds, in 2019, we saw some horrifying examples and images of hedgehogs being tied to fireworks and then set off. Disgusting. Fireworks containing gunpowder are a weapon. And in the wrong hands and the general public, can be used and abused very badly. In many countries around the world, they are only allowed on new year’s eve and only with tight regulations. Yet in the UK, they are allowed every night of the year, hounding our animals with terrifying sounds, smells and in some cases the parts of the fireworks coming down on them. It’s time to change the laws, limit the number of days they are allowed on, reduce the decibels of those that are let off and ban the sale to the public. It’s gone ridiculous now. Weddings, celebrations, showing off your money, letting off lights at Christmas, leaving the EU – any reason to let off a firework. It’s ridiculous. It’s selfish – for humans such as sufferers of PTSD, war veterans, those with hyperacusis, dementia and more – and for animals – pets and wildlife – and for the environment as we throw toxins into the air. 

OK humans. Want to be responsible for this planet? What can you do? 

  • Share this blog in every group you are in on social media and in emails – particularly those not related to fireworks, to reach new audiences
  • There have been 3 debates and a petitions inquiry and now the UK government is due to review what to do in 2020. Now is the time to write to your MP and ask them to push the government to take drastic action. Reduce the number of days to just a handful a year and ban the sale to the public.
  • Write to your councils asking them to change what they allow. As you can see in Bideford, they can do this. Push. You can use the RSPCA template to ask them to change which are allowed
  • Ask your friends and neighbours not to let them off or if they insist, to at least use those with lower bang ratings – which are available among most fireworks sellers and those that do displays
  • Support petitions 
  • Record every firework you hear through the year
  • Read more blogs on the impacts of fireworks and share these too: Environmental impact, impact on war veterans and sufferers of PTSD and on assistance dogs