New Year fireworks: Why don't more people use quiet pyrotechnics?

London New Year's Eve fireworks 2019 Image copyright EPA
Image caption One of the main issues for people and animals disturbed by fireworks is the unexpected loud noises

Fireworks are synonymous with New Year's Eve. If you switch your TV on at midnight, you will see multi-coloured pyrotechnics from London's South Bank, Edinburgh Castle, and Newcastle's Quayside.

But for 12 million pet owners, and some of the 700,000 people who have autism, the bangs and crashes of the projectiles can cause huge anxiety.

A recent petition has called for the ban on the general sale of fireworks to the public during periods like Bonfire Night, Diwali, and New Year's Eve.

How do fireworks displays affect pets?

The loud and unpredictable nature of fireworks can have a severe effect on some animals.

Charities like Dogs Trust have highlighted the impact that fireworks have on canines, and the steps owners can take to relax their pets.

Glasgow-based campaigner Una Race says her one-year-old beagle Logan "completely changed" after being exposed to fireworks.

Image copyright Una Race
Image caption Una Race said her Beagle Logan ran off for three days after getting spooked by fireworks

The 26-year-old said: "He got really startled, pulled, broke his collar and he just bolted. He crossed a main road, he had absolute blinders on.

"He went missing for three full days, it was absolutely horrendous.

"It's completely changed who he is as a dog, we're now having to manage a lot of things that you wouldn't expect we'd need to manage in a dog of his age."

Dogs are not the only animals to be affected. In November the Welsh RSPCA said a horse impaled itself on a fence after getting spooked by fireworks.

What about people?

Some people with autism can be startled by fireworks.

The National Autistic Society head of campaigns Tom Purser said: "What's really important to remember is of the 700,000 people with autism in the UK many of them will have sensitivity to noise and light, sometimes that'll be extreme.

"Sometimes it can be painful for autistic people, and the unexpected nature of fireworks causes a lot of distress."

Alannah White, 16, from Doncaster, lives with high-functioning autism and struggles with fireworks.

Image copyright Andrew White
Image caption Alannah White with her father Andrew

"It's just such a shock," she says. "On Bonfire Night I was literally sat under my table crying, it's so scary.

"For me and an awful lot of other people with autism, sensory overload drives us into a state of shock.

"For me New Year's Eve will be spent with family, but probably with headphones on, so I can't hear the fireworks."

Her father Andrew says two of the family's four dogs are also impacted by the fireworks.

"There a millions of dogs in the UK and it could literally frighten them to death," says Mr White.

"For Alannah, she suffers with noise sensitivity, and the fear of when the next one could be, because there's no pattern to it."

Fireworks can also trigger symptoms in veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Could quieter fireworks be a solution?

One of the main issues for people and animals disturbed by fireworks is the unexpected loud noises.

But what if you could make fireworks quiet?

Director of Nottingham-based fireworks company First Galaxy Lee Smith says he has been using "quiet" fireworks for 15 years.

He started using them when he was asked to put together a display at a wedding venue that had noise restrictions.

"That then sowed the seed for that [quiet fireworks] becoming more popular. We go to a lot of posh farms and houses that are wedding venues, but also working farms as well," says Mr Smith.

"They need fireworks to not startle livestock, to not annoy their neighbours. Many of the venues we work at keep horses.

"We've even done displays at wildlife parks."

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Media captionLee Smith's firework company won the British Firework Championships in Plymouth earlier this year

Mr Smith says ground effects can be "totally silent", whereas projectile fireworks produce about 70 decibels - half of the noise normal fireworks make.

"Not every firework needs to be loud to be entertaining," he says. "Artistically they look fabulous, and not every firework needs to make a noise to be impressive.

"It's a slow pick up but more and more people are buying them."

Do people actually want quiet fireworks?

Alannah White certainly does.

"I think fireworks are really pretty, but I'd love it if they didn't make me feel that I needed to sit under a table and cry. Quiet fireworks could take away that shock," she says.

Una Race is more cautious.

"I think quiet fireworks are a great step forward, it's a step in the right direction, but it might not be the solution," she said.

But British Fireworks Association chairman Steve Newham says quiet fireworks are "a bit of a myth".

"There is no such thing as a quiet firework really unless you're talking about a sparkler," he says,.

Mr Newham has sold quiet fireworks for a number of years, but says there is limited interest in them.

"It doesn't get as much traction as normal fireworks because you're looking at quite a small minority of people who don't like fireworks and don't like the associated noise," he says.

"But the majority of people would actually prefer a standard firework if you put them side by side."

Are there alternatives to fireworks?

If quiet fireworks are not the solution, is there an alternative to pyrotechnics?

Definitive Special Projects director Will Hitchins has been working in lasers and project shows for 26 years.

"They've always been an alternative, we have quite often done stuff where fireworks have not been able to be used or have been deemed problematic, like safari parks or a wolves sanctuary, where there was absolutely no possibility of fireworks," he says.

"For people with needs that preclude the use of loud bangs and shocks, it's not a bad alternative."

Image copyright Kew Gardens
Image caption Will Hitchins have produced laser shows like Christmas At Kew Gardens

But are they an acceptable alternative to fireworks?

"We often find it quite irritating when people say 'we're having a laser show as a fireworks show'," says Mr Hitchins.

"Don't tell people it's a fireworks show because it's not, and if you do you'll end up having people who are disappointed.

"If you want something to look like fireworks then I strongly suggest you use fireworks."

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