A new report, published by Redwings Horse Sanctuary, says the Animal Welfare Act does not offer protection for pets or livestock caused to suffer because of firework displays, and the assertion by Ministers that it does is an ‘illusion’.

The charity – who have lost three equines in their care because of fireworks set off nearby – brought together experts in animal welfare and legislation for a roundtable at the end of March. The group included barristers, veterinary surgeons, police officers, local authority inspectors and animal welfare professionals.

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 1 November, 2010 and 19 March, 2024. These include 49 horse fatalities, 317 horse injuries and 84 people injured during a situation involving horses and fireworks. Redwings said incidents are significantly underreported, so the true figure would be much higher.

“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,” said Campaigns and Policy Manager at Redwings, Helen Whitelegg.

“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, agreed 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,” he said. “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 added: “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 are8 encouraged to share the report with their own MP and ask that they support calls for a comprehensive review of current fireworks regulations.

The Redwings Fireworks and the AWA roundtable report can be read here.

Lead image by Shutterstock/Alexander Prokopenko 

Further reading