Find alternatives to protect all creatures (image: Hedgehugs)
Choose alternatives to bonfires & fireworks to help wildlife, and save the planet. Both cause a lot of damage. It may sound like being a party pooper, but nobody wants to be responsible for a hedgehog burned to death, or a dog jumping through a stain-glass window and going missing, to get away from fireworks (it happens, so do many outdoor pets die from shock, on Bonfire Night).
Alternatives to Bonfires
Surprisingly, the laws are very lax on bonfires, considering the damage they do. Although some allotments now make their own laws, and ban them. But the law does say that you can’t harm other people’s health or pollute, just to get rid of waste. Local councils may override these laws, and you can fined up to £5000 if your bonfire causes a nuisance. This would include smoke blowing across to someone else’s garden or causing a danger. You are also not allowed to burn anything that is toxic like plastic, rubber, engine oil or anything explosive.
- If you are going to have a bonfire, only use natural materials, nothing toxic. Burning green leaves causes a lot of smoke.
- Before lighting, ideally move the entire pile, to allow hedgehogs and other wildlife to escape.
- If you won’t do this, then gently poke through the entire bonfire with a broom handle, to give wildlife a chance to escape.
- Keep buckets of water nearby, in case of a fire.
- Don’t burn bonfires near fences or sheds.
- Tie back long hair, and avoid loose clothing.
- Make sure bonfire is fully out, before leaving. Don’t leave it to ‘peter out’, pour water on it.
Alternatives to Fireworks
There are stricter laws on fireworks, in that you can’t set them up after 11pm or before 7am apart from holidays like New Year’s Eve. Never let them off near trees, fences or buildings that could catch light.
Fireworks also cause acid rain. They release metal particles and toxins into the air that can last for years, and affect anyone with breathing problems. Chemicals and dyes fall to the ground and wash into the seas, when it rains. And many fireworks involve unsustainable mining.
It’s illegal to use fireworks in the street. You can’t use them if under 18 and they must carry CD mark and be kept in a closed box and lit at arm’s length with a taper (away from flames). Wear gloves (sparklers burn the same temperature as a welding torch).
If You Must Use Fireworks..
- If you decide after the above that you do use them, at least choose ‘quiet fireworks’ (with less bangs, to avoid scaring pets & wildlife).
- Attend a public display, rather than a private one. This means less fireworks ((never take pets with you). Have them secure at home (below) and ideally have one person stay with them.
- Avoid sky lanterns. The metal spikes left on the ground harm wildlife, and they get get confused with coastal flares, risking lives of coastguards and lifeboat crew. They are also fire hazards (recently several animals in a German zoo died, when one dropped into their enclosure).
- Clean up absolutely everything after you leave.
- According to energy company Ecotricity, white fireworks have fewer chemicals than coloured ones. They also suggest having ground-based fireworks (like Catherine wheels) over air-based ones, so there’s more chance of you being able to find and collect any debris left after firing.
- Never smoke near fireworks.
- Never hold babies or let young children near, while lighting sparklers.
- Never return to a firework, once lit.
- Keep to the local time rules.
Keeping Pets Safe on Fireworks Night
Of course the main problem is that it’s not like the old days, when fireworks were only on Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve. But if you know in advance, Blue Cross has good tips including:
- Walk dogs before the fireworks begin.
- Bring outdoor animals inside if possible, or at least in a garage or shed. Turn enclosures to face the walls. Cover with (breathable) blankets with ventilation to block out bangs.
- Keep dogs and cats inside, and close windows and cat flaps. Draw curtains and put the TV or radio on (just loud enough to block out sounds). Stay with them, and ensure they have safe ID up-to-date (many try to escape in terror). Many animals like a den (say under a low table or bed). But not near radiators with hot pipes.
- It’s now believed the old advice to ‘not make a fuss’ or it will make animals worse, has changed. Most say that it’s fine, just don’t look worried yourself, or it could make them worse. Most pets are too terrified to be aware of you fussing them anyway.
- Don’t take pets with you to firework displays, they will be terrified, even if quiet. And never tie them up anywhere, as they will likely try to run off, and could choke. Don’t leave dogs in cars (even for a second). Especially not on Fireworks night (or in warm/hot weather).
- It’s illegal to let off fireworks near horses or livestock nearby, or close to buildings due to fire hazards. You also have to warn farmers in advance. If you own these large animals, keep them in a stable ideally and again have someone watch them.
- Medicines to calm don’t always work. But you may wish to try it, for very bad events. Be wary of ‘natural calming items’ as a few contain scents and essential oils that could make pets sick. Talk to your vet.
- Fill up water bowls, as stressed animals tend to drink more.
- If you have to leave animals alone, then place some of your clothes nearby, as your scent could help to calm them.
- Ask your town council to use quiet fireworks, to stop local pets being scared. Think this is a fruitless exercise? Not so. Peterlee (Sunderland) Town Council has done just that, as their firework display is just as popular. They actually did it to help not just pets, but also elderly residents who were getting upset. Well done, you!
It’s not true that birds are not affected by fireworks. In Arkansas (Kansas), 5000 birds all crashed to the ground during a fireworks display. Blackbirds don’t fly at night, and it was believed that the shock of the firework noise literally ‘shook’ them from their nest, and they all crashed to the ground in fright.