Most people know that fireworks cause so much distress, and even death, to our pets, horses and livestock. Less well known is the impact on wildlife. Just imagine – you are a wild bird roosting for the night in the woods and coutryside near, for example, a stately home. Suddenly your sleep is disturbed by a very loud bang. You wake up and yourself and your fellow birds take flight in terror. More bangs go off and you see your fellow birds dropping out of the sky, dead from shock. The birds that survive will become disorientated and, if nesting, will be unable to make their way back to their chicks, who will die of starvation. Like something out of a horror film and yet it is not just birds who are adversely affected by fireworks.
Mammals such as deer and foxes will flee their habitat in terror and some end up as casualties or dead from being hit by cars as they run across roads trying to escape the noise. Many animals have more sensitive hearing than humans so the bangs of the fireworks are devastatingly louder and can cause hearing loss or other issues. Animals in zoos are also affected, they have nowhere to flee. Observation of animals in zoos such as cheetahs and rhinos have shown they display symptoms of nervousness, which has been observed to have a knock-on effect on other animals.
Fire Lily Studio and Protect the Wild have collaborated on a very emotional video which captures in a nutshell the horror of bonfire night on wildlife. Please share widely so more people become aware:
If you think comments about birds falling from the sky due to fireworks is being over-dramatic, then consider these examples:
“Beginning at roughly 11:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve Arkansas wildlife officers started hearing reports of birds falling from the sky in a square-mile area of the city of Beebe. Officials estimate that up to 5,000 red-winged blackbirds, European starlings, common grackles, and brown-headed cowbirds fell before midnight.” (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/110106-birds-falling-from-sky-bird-deaths-arkansas-science)
Hundreds of roosting starlings fell out of the sky in Rome in 2021 after an illegal fireworks display in the city (https://news.sky.com/story/hundreds-of-roosting-starlings-die-after-fireworks-set-off-in-rome-12176917)
Fireworks are Toxic
In addition, fireworks are toxic. Every explosion releases poisonous particles and dust. This spreads on the wind to reach animals (and people) who are not even near the fireworks event. There is also the risk for animals of ingesting the particles and parts of fireworks. Not only that, the colours in fireworks are produced by metallic compounds that are also known to be harmful to humans and animals.
“During the explosion, these metal salts do not ‘burn up’. They are still metal atoms, and many of them are end up as aerosols that poison the air, the water and the soil. When inhaled or ingested, these metals can cause a huge variety of short- and long-term reactions, ranging from vomiting, diarrhea or asthma attacks, to kidney disease, cardiotoxic effects and a variety of cancers.” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/grrlscientist/2019/12/31/festive-fireworks-create-harmful-pall-of-pollution/?sh=7de562828535)
To produce the oxygen needed for an explosion, many fireworks contain oxidisers known as perchlorates. These can dissolve in water, contaminating rivers, lakes and drinking water. The fine cloud of smoke that the fireworks also release affect local air quality. But, hey, you might counterargue, surely ONE firework display isn’t that bad and can’t produce much pollution? Wrong.
“A case study found that within 1 hour of fireworks displays, strontium levels in the air increased 120 times, magnesium 22 times, barium 12 times, potassium 11 times, and copper (Cu) 6 times more than the amount already present in the air before the event (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1352231007009685?via%3Dihub)” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/grrlscientist/2019/12/31/festive-fireworks-create-harmful-pall-of-pollution/?sh=7de562828535)
Every year, after fireworks have been let off, there are stories in the media of terrified dogs, pets having heart attacks, horses running amok in fear and fatally wounding themselves. The list goes on. There are no strong studies on the effect of fireworks on insects such as bees, but I think it safe to say that insect life is probably not left unscathed either by fireworks.
In light of the above, WHY would you want to let off fireworks? There is no place for them in today’s society with all its climate woes, decimation of habitats and declining wildlife numbers. By letting off fireworks yourself, or promoting their use by attending firework displays, you are contributing indirectly to the pollution of our atmosphere, soil and waterways. And this pollution lingers, and every year it is accumulating with every firework let off. One cannot salve one’s conscience by going to an organised display instead – by attending, you are contributing to the popularity of the event and possibly ensuring it takes place again next year. Big stately homes and other venues that hold firework displays need to be made aware of the impact of that event on the surrounding area.
And, let’s face it, fireworks are expensive. What a waste of money for half an hour of pyrotechnics. That is not allowing for the risk of fire, accidents to bystanders and the breathing in of a toxic cocktail whilst watching the event.
What About the Bonfire?
Bonfires are also a major hazard for hedgehogs. A pile of logs and wood that has been sitting around for weeks is an enticing prospect for a hedgehog looking for somewhere to hibernate. If you have to build your bonfire in advance of the event, please check before lighting that no hedgehogs are inside. Better still, build your bonfire the day before or on the day – by doing so, hedgehogs won’t have had the time to occupy it. British hedgehogs are declining at an alarming rate, they don’t need the hazard of being burnt alive to add to their demise.
Let’s not be party-poopers, though. There ARE alternatives to fireworks. There is NO EXCUSE for using traditional explosive, toxic fireworks. Silent fireworks exist. Even better, drones and lasers can be used to provide much more exciting displays, without the addition of pollution, noise and animal deaths or psychological stress.
Are fireworks really worth the risk to our health, environment, wildlife and pets?