Fireworks in Scotland: analysis of responses to consultation

Summary of key themes to emerge from the consultation to gather the public's views on the use and regulation of fireworks in Scotland.

Part Four: Animal welfare

The final part of the consultation addressed animal welfare directly. The consultation paper notes that legislation governing animal welfare is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 protects and promotes the welfare of animals and created a number of criminal offences to help protect animals from mistreatment.

These offences cover a range of animal welfare issues, some of which carry a maximum penalty of up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £20,000. These penalties can be applied to the offence of causing 'unnecessary suffering' to an animal. This offence may be committed by anyone who knowingly causes unnecessary suffering to an animal, by either doing or not doing something, whether they are the keeper/owner of the animal or not.

Question 10 – Do you think that there should be more controls to make sure that animals are not caused unnecessary suffering because of the use of fireworks?

A very substantial majority, 93% of those answering the question, thought there should be more controls to make sure animals are not caused unnecessary suffering because of the use of fireworks. Individual respondents were more likely than organisations to think there should be more controls - 93% and 80% respectively.

Figure 7: Question 10 – Do you think that there should be more controls to make sure animals are not caused unnecessary suffering because of the use of fireworks? (n = 16,234)

Figure 7: Question 10 – Do you think that there should be more controls to make sure animals are not caused unnecessary suffering because of the use of fireworks?

Views of those who thought there should be more controls

Around 13,030 respondents who thought that there should be more controls to make sure animals are not caused unnecessary suffering because of the use of fireworks went on to make a further comment. Participants at the consultation events also voiced concerns about the impact of fireworks on pets, livestock and wild animals, including in relation to both the impact of the noise from fireworks and the potential for animals to be injured.

An animal-related third sector or community group respondent[6] cited their Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report 2018 showing that a significant proportion of Scottish pets (35% of dogs, 26% of cats and 18% of rabbits) are afraid of fireworks and that over half (51%) of veterinary professionals say they have seen an increase in pets with phobias such as fireworks in the last two years.

Many respondents suggested that fireworks should be banned, not sold to the general public or made a statement in support of organised displays and/or licensing. There were also references to some of the other possible restrictions covered at earlier questions, for example only allowing the use of fireworks on certain days and further limits on the time of day at which they can be used.

Otherwise, respondents most frequently commented on, or called for, the use of only silent or quieter fireworks, sometimes noting that they favoured banning fireworks, but would prefer silent fireworks if that is not possible. Others noted that they favoured the use of only silent fireworks for organised displays.

There were also references to practice in other countries and it was suggested that it is the loud noise associated with many fireworks, and modern fireworks in particular, that is at the root of many animals' distress. For example:

It is now possible to make silent fireworks. As it is the noise that causes most distress, noisy fireworks should be banned. This would protect both domestic and wild animals.

Individual respondent

An animal-related third sector or community group respondent reported that studies have shown that loud and high-pitched fireworks can have a negative impact on the health and welfare of companion animals. They set out the implications for dogs, cats and horses. Another animal-related third sector or community group respondent thought that the public should be made aware of the impact that fireworks have on horses as the reaction to loud noises and a bright burst of light can have dire consequences for both horse and owner.

The first of these respondents went on to recommend that local authorities should take the location of public displays into consideration when granting licences. A further Animal-related third sector or community group respondent also suggested that criteria for any licence should recognise potential impacts on animal welfare.

Identification of appropriate locations for fireworks to be used was also raised by other respondents; again, some respondents made it clear that they were referring to their use at organised displays, others appeared to be referencing their use by the public.

Respondents tended to focus on one of two themes, the first being that fireworks should not be used within urban or residential areas. The connection was sometimes made to the number of pets that would be living in these areas, but there was also reference (as at Question 5) to people, and the types of people, who find fireworks distressing or who are disturbed by them.

The second theme was that fireworks should not be used in areas where animals could be affected. This again ranged from areas where pets are living, through to areas where there are livestock or wild animals. For example:

I believe fireworks should also be restricted (in the time they are allowed to be let off and in the noise levels that can be reached) in areas where either vulnerable animals are kept (livestock, nature reserves, rescue centres etc.) or where it is known that there will be large numbers of animals (residential areas where it could be assumed there will be many cats and dogs).

Individual respondent

There were also specific references to fireworks not being used within set distances from animal shelters, stables, kennels, zoos, wildlife parks or other locations where animals are gathered.

Whenever fireworks are being used, and with particular reference to the benefits of organised displays or only allowing organised displays, respondents suggested that those planning to use fireworks should have responsibility for notifying the local community of their plans. For example:

People within the vicinity of organised displays should be given notice of when they will be happening so that they can ensure the welfare of their animals.

Individual respondent

Participants at the consultation events also thought it to be important that owners are given the necessary information to take preventative action.

More detailed suggestions, made either at Question 10 or elsewhere, included that advanced notice of plans to use fireworks should be mailed out to every household within animal earshot of a display, that a number of weeks' notice should be given, and that households or organisations caring for animals should have an opportunity to object to any planned display.

In terms of the types of specific measures someone could take to protect animals, there were references to being able to move livestock or horses, accessing sedatives for dogs or cats and ensuring that pets are indoors and someone is with them; this latter point in particular was linked to the concerns raised about the random and unpredictable use of fireworks at earlier questions.

There were also a small number of references to taking animals, and especially dogs, to remote locations when displays are planned or to those who profit from fireworks covering some of the costs owners incur (for example in terms of vets fees or subsidising over-the-counter animal calming solutions).

Finally, there was a range of legislation-focused comments, including that any instances of firework-related cruelty must be prosecuted, and that people should be subject to severe penalties if animals are hurt, and especially if deliberately hurt. There were also suggestions that anyone convicted of using a firework to hurt an animal should be banned from keeping animals for life. For example:

Too many animals are distressed or even killed by the misuse of fireworks whether it's through fear or in some horrific cases, having fireworks attached to them and being set off. A longer prison sentence or at least unpaid work/community service and a lifetime ban on owning pets and a criminal record should be considered as well.

Individual respondent

Views of those who did not think there should be more controls

Around 610 respondents who did not think there should be more controls to make sure animals are not caused unnecessary suffering because of the use of fireworks went on to make a further comment. Some of the issues raised reflected those identified by respondents who had answered 'Yes' at Question 10, including that more controls would be unnecessary in the event of a ban on sale to the public or that only organised firework displays should be allowed.

Most frequently, respondents suggested that it is the responsibility of pet owners to look after their animals, sometimes noting that they themselves are pet owners. For example:

As someone who has had dogs for many years, I understand it is my responsibility to ensure my pet is safe and comforted when fireworks are used just as I am responsible for my pet's wellbeing around traffic and any other manner of possible issue.

Individual respondent

The need to take responsibility for animals in their care was sometimes connected to the need to ensure their animals are properly trained, including by exposure to loud noises. On a connected point, it was noted that there are many other loud noises which animals, including pets, have to deal with and that singling out fireworks will not protect them from being potentially startled by, or needing to get used to, very loud noises. Respondents referenced thunder, guns, traffic noise and sirens or alarms.

Some of those commenting made a general statement that the current arrangements are appropriate or sufficient, including that they offer enough protections for animals. It was suggested that the current legislation and regulations should be enforced rather than those who use fireworks responsibly being penalised:

Again the controls and laws that already exist to manage this. If there are transgressors they should be managed under current legislation. Please just enforce what we currently have and DO NOT add to legislation and stifle our lives.

Individual respondent

There was also a view that fireworks are only used, and by extension animals are only exposed to fireworks, on one or two nights of the year. Some noted that animals have coped with fireworks for many years and, for example, that:

...this is a recent fad, dogs are scared of fireworks well actually it's the owners putting fear into them, we never had this fuss when I was a kid and we had way more fireworks then.

Individual respondent



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