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Petition to change Orkney fireworks – because local swans are getting distressed

Hundreds of people are calling for the Kirkwall event to be relocated - or for silent fireworks to be used.

Kirkwall bonfire.
Kirkwall bonfire.

Hundreds of people are calling for changes to a Kirkwall bonfire event after swans and cygnets were scared by the fireworks.

Locals enjoy the annual bonfire and fireworks display, held at the Peedie Sea.

But during the display, ‘terrified’ swans could be seen lifting off from the water. Some flew above the spectators and quite close to the bonfire itself.

Within 24 hours of the event, more than 600 people had signed a petition, concerned for the birds.

The organisers say they’ll review the effect the event has on wildlife and community.

Should Kirkwall bonfire and fireworks display find a new location?

After the event, people took to Facebook to air their concerns and pictures of disoriented and distressed cygnet in a nearby car park garnered online attention.

Kirkwall resident Kelly Johnston was at the bonfire on Saturday and decided to set up the online petition via

She said: “I had noticed a lot of people on social media making comments about how upsetting it is seeing the swans flying around clearly upset by the event.

“We also had a young swan – clearly shocked and dazed – appear in a car park across from the event. So, I decided to do something about it.

“I feel we need to either relocate the event or at least try silent or low-noise fireworks to see if it makes any difference to the wildlife around the area.

“I’ve started a petition and will be contacting my local councillor with the hope that my input and the growing number of signatures will impact what, hopefully, will be discussed in the council chamber.

This short video shows swans flying near the display.

(video: Kelly Johnston)

“I love the event and I will continue to go. But I hope we can find another way of hosting it without upsetting the local wildlife.”

On her petition’s page, she asks people to sign if they feel the event should be moved or silent fireworks used.

She said there were around 50 swans at the PeediaeSea.

At least a dozen were flying around above the crowd, “terrified of both the bonfire and the fireworks”, she writes.

Orcadians take to Facebook to air concerns for wildlife

The event is run by the Rotary Club of Orkney on behalf of Kirkwall and St Ola Community Council.

The two groups have now issued a joint statement.

They said they “take animal welfare seriously”.

“We note that the number of swans that have successfully wintered in Kirkwall has increased greatly during that time.

“We will now take some time to review the event, alongside OIC, to assess the impact it has on the community as a whole, and the wildlife of the area.

Orkney Islands Council also issued a short statement.

A spokesperson said: “We are aware of the concerns being raised by some around the location of the Kirkwall bonfire.

“We will be discussing these with the organisers in advance of next year’s event.”

Event will be discussed by council and organisers

The pictures of the distressed cygnet were posted on Facebook by Serena Leask, from Finstown.

Mrs Leask said the weekend was “nothing short of a nightmare.”

“The swans completely panic, trying desperately to scatter and get away from the deafening sounds of explosions.”

A cygnet in a car park after it was frightened by the Kirkwall bonfire night fireworks.
A confused and disoriented cygnet had to be helped back to the water after the fireworks display in Kirkwall. Image: Serena Leask

While she didn’t attend the bonfire this year, she read about the swans on social media.

A former veterinary receptionist, she headed to the area after the event to see if she could help any birds.

She said: “It wasn’t long until I found my first casualty, a young cygnet, wandering about in a daze near the Pickaquoy Centre.

“He was so weak and sitting in the middle of the road. He needed help and was not going to survive where he was.”

She and her parents helped the bird, wrapping it in a blanket and moving it back to the water.

‘Disgust’ at stress caused to animals by Kirkwall bonfire and fireworks event

She says she has had spoken to people online who are also upset.

Mrs Leask said people told her they witnessed the swans going over the flames of the bonfire and in the direction of the fireworks.

She added: “I’m not being a killjoy. I’m not looking for the event to be cancelled. I would like to attend the display myself with my family if it were to be relocated.

“I support the Rotary Club and what they stand for. However, continuing to stress these beautiful animals at their home year after year is disgusting.”