New Report Challenges ‘Illusion’ that Animal Welfare Act is Effective in Dealing with Suffering Caused by Fireworks Displays

A new report has been published and released by Redwings Horse Sanctuary today (Thursday 23rd May), says the Animal Welfare Act does not offer recourse or protection for pets or livestock caused to suffer because of firework displays, and the assertion by Ministers that it does is an ‘illusion’.  

The largest horse welfare charity in the UK – who have had three equines in their care die because of fireworks set off nearby* – brought together experts in the field of animal welfare and legislation for a roundtable at the end of March (27th).   

The group of highly experienced individuals included barristers, veterinary surgeons, police officers, local authority inspectors and animal welfare professionals, all with extensive experience of animal welfare cases and relevant legislation.  

With no precedent of the Animal Welfare Act being used in situations where an animal has been killed or injured, the roundtable discussed whether or not the Act could realistically be used to hold someone to account in such cases. The group concluded unanimously that it could not. 

1,468 incidents involving horses and fireworks were recorded in the UK between 1st November 2010 and 19th March 2024 (an average of more than 100 a year). These include 49 horse fatalities, 317 horse injuries and 84 people injured during a situation involving horses and fireworks. Incidents are known to be significantly underreported, meaning the true figure will be much higher.** Sixty four percent of cat owners who have witnessed their cat experience fireworks say that their pet expresses at least one sign of stress.*** Forty one percent of dog owners say their dog is afraid of fireworks. That’s over four million dogs.****  

Campaigns and Policy Manager at Redwings, Helen Whitelegg, said: “DEFRA ministers have repeatedly pointed to the Animal Welfare Act when the subject has come up, suggesting that it is a possible mechanism for recourse and protection for pets.   

“But the roundtable discussion raised multiple reasons why the Animal Welfare Act, while doing a fantastic job of enabling those who neglect or abuse animals to be brought to account, is not designed to apply in situations where someone letting off fireworks inadvertently causes death, injury, illness or trauma to an animal.  

“When you hear a barrister with 22 years of experience, who has worked extensively with the Animal Welfare Act, say that he wishes the Act could be used in this way but that it simply can’t, and that it’s like trying to put a square peg in a round hole, you know something needs to change.”

Redwings veterinary surgeon Nic de Brauwere, who has significant experience of working with the Animal Welfare Act and providing written and oral evidence in prosecution cases, agrees that focus needs to be on better regulation of fireworks, not penalising members of the public who inadvertently cause suffering.  

“The Animal Welfare Act is a very good piece of legislation, but it wasn’t written to punish people for doing something the law currently endorses, such as holding a fireworks display in their back garden. Displays can not only terrify animals but are often distressing and dangerous for people too. The focus needs to be on the better regulation of fireworks, which are after all explosive devices.” 

Helen concludes: “We hope that the publication of this report will mean that ministers will no longer hide behind the illusion that the Animal Welfare Act offers any protection or recourse for those whose pets are caused to suffer because of fireworks.  

“Westminster has relied on this response for too long while fireworks continue to cause fear, suffering and even death to so many animals every year, and anxiety, cost and grief to their devastated owners.”

Anyone concerned about the impact of fireworks on animals is being encouraged to share the report with their own MP and ask that they support calls for a comprehensive review of current fireworks regulations.

 Redwings has been raising awareness of the potential risks that fireworks pose for horses for many years, themselves losing three horses, Cinders, Sprite and Percy, in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

The charity spends in excess of £3,000 each year in efforts to mitigate the potential impact of fireworks solely over the Bonfire Night period and New Year’s Eve. However, opportunities to reduce the risk are limited across an organisation with more than 1,000 rescued equines in its direct care particularly when fireworks are used increasingly at other times of year.

In 2023, the charity released footage recorded on a mobile phone of a group of ponies reacting to fireworks being let off close to their paddock. The footage can be viewed here.

The report can be found on the Redwings Horse Sanctuary website here: Fireworks and the AWA roundtable report.pdf (