Scottish Animal Welfare Commission: letter to Minister of Community Safety regarding Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill

Letter from the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission to Minister of Community Safety on 10 May 2022, regarding the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill.

Ash Regan MSP
The Scottish Parliament
EH99 1SP

c/o Scottish Animal Welfare Commission Secretariat
Animal Health and Welfare Team
P-Spur, Saughton House
Broomhouse Drive
EH11 3XD

10 May 2022

Dear Minister

Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill

The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC) has been following the progress of the above Bill with interest, and we congratulate you on its passage at stage 1 last week.

The SAWC appreciates that the Bill is largely focused on matters of community safety and reducing antisocial behaviour, which are important for both humans and animals. We support the Scottish Government’s intention to reduce these problems. We have been pleased by the attention paid to the adverse effects of firework noise and misuse on companion animals, livestock and wildlife by the Criminal Justice Committee and by Members during the Stage 1 debate.

At our meeting of 23 March 2022, the SAWC members agreed that it would be valuable to offer you some brief views on the potential of the Bill to address animal welfare even more comprehensively.

Fully evidenced submissions were made to the Committee by a number of animal welfare organisations including the Scottish SPCA, Dogs Trust, Blue Cross, British Veterinary Association (BVA), OneKind, British Horse Society, Cats Protection and World Horse Welfare. We will not repeat the detailed comments made in these submissions, but the SAWC agrees with much of what has been said. Many examples of species-specific fear or stress reactions to fireworks in dogs, cats, horses, livestock and wildlife are set out in the BVA policy statement on the use and sale of fireworks, and such evidence underpins the need for change.

In terms of animal welfare, the loudness of the noise created by fireworks (and resulting echoes), rather than the light display, causes the most adverse reactions in animals. Without wishing to add delay or complexity to the process, we are concerned that the problem of unpredictable noise and its impact on animals is not fully addressed. Continual low level firework activity for many days can cause welfare issues because it is unpredictable and occasionally continuous. In addition, while the licensing scheme for private users should reduce noise from fireworks in the community, it will not address noise from organised displays and the fear and distress this can cause to animals. 

The approach of the Bill and the discussion in the Parliament so far tend towards the assumption that organised displays are less harmful than private use. This is almost certainly the case with regard to community safety and anti-social behaviour, but the noise from organised displays can often be louder than that in domestic displays and we feel it must not be overlooked. 

The SAWC notes the Schedule 1 exemptions from the restrictions on days of use of fireworks (s. 23) and firework control zones (s.26) for professional organisers or operators of fireworks displays or pyrotechnics displays, as well as for organisers of public fireworks displays on behalf of charitable, religious, youth, recreational, community, political or similar organisations. The latter, in particular, is a wide exemption and one which many people in the community might be able to claim. 

We appreciate that these exemptions are intended to encourage community events where safety and appropriate behaviour will be prioritised. Nonetheless, we are concerned that these exemptions could undermine the protection of animals from noise. As an example, a firework control zone might be created around an animal shelter or a zoological collection, in which case the animals’ need for protection would apply every day of the year. Unlike free-living wildlife (which are also impacted by firework noise) these animals cannot move away from the stressor. We hope that these exemptions will be interpreted narrowly, to reduce the risk to animals, and that this will be covered in Guidance.

We were pleased to see discussion of lower noise fireworks in Committee. The witness from the British Fireworks Association confirmed that lower noise fireworks are widely available to consumers and recommended that the public should be encouraged to purchase these “outwith the normal seasonal periods of use” (although it might be thought that the peak seasonal periods of use are the very times when an overall reduction of noise levels is most desirable.)

We understand that lower noise fireworks are now offered by some organisers of public events, such as wedding displays, and this would be a good example to promote.

The SAWC supports the Committee’s recommendation (Stage 1 Report, paragraph 136), “that the Scottish Government works with the fireworks industry to educate the public to the availability of lower noise fireworks. This could be through an improved communications and a public information campaign. The Scottish Government may also wish to include information on the availability of lower noise fireworks as part of the online training course members of the public will have to undertake in advance of applying for a fireworks licence.”

The SAWC welcomes the Scottish Government’s willingness to consider educating the public on the availability of lower noise fireworks as well as the promotion of lower noise fireworks as part of the proposed fireworks licensing training course. 

Reference has also been made to the lack of a recognised standard or specification to categorise lower noise fireworks. The SAWC recognises that it will be essential for such a standard to be developed and we welcome your commitment to keep the matter under review. We encourage further assessment of the practicalities and the potential of lower noise fireworks along with the development of a standard or specification as soon as possible. This would demonstrate the Scottish Government’s commitment to driving down the overall noise levels of fireworks in both public display and private use, which should lead to more satisfactory outcomes for humans and animals alike. 

I hope that these comments are of interest and we will be pleased to provide more detailed views from the SAWC if required.

Yours sincerely

Professor Cathy Dwyer, Chair, Scottish Animal Welfare Commission

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