A petition asking for changes to be made to Kirkwall’s bonfire and fireworks display has gathered hundreds of signatures following Saturday’s event after people became concerned by distressed swans at the event’s location.
The annual event, which is held at the Peedie Sea, is organised and run by the Rotary Club of Orkney on behalf of Kirkwall and St Ola Community Council.
They have now responded to the concerns raised in the petition which gained over 600 signatures within 24 hours.
They have said discussions will take place and they’ll review the effect the event has on wildlife and community.
During the public fireworks display swans could be seen lifting off from the water and landing again, with some flying above the spectators and close to the bonfire.
Should the Kirkwall bonfire 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 change.org.
While she is still in favour of the event, she feels there needs to be some kind of change.
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.
“This is something that happens every year.
“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.
“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 page she asks people to sign if they feel the event should be moved or silent fireworks used instead.
She said there were around 50 swans at the Peedia Sea.
At least a dozen were flying around above the crowd “terrified of both the bonfire and the fireworks” she said.
The online reaction was enough to merit a response from the event organisers.
A joint statement has been issued by the Rotary Club of Orkney and Kirkwall and St Ola Community Council.
They said they “take animal welfare seriously and have monitored the effects of the event over the past years”.
“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.”
The pictures of the distressed cygnet were posted on Facebook by Serena Leask, from Finstown.
In a social media post, she said she would be doing everything in her power to make sure this event was the last held at the Peedie Sea.
Mrs Leask highlighted that the effect on wildlife is not a new problem.
She has chosen not to attend the display since 2011 after seeing and hearing the distressed birds.
She told the LDR service that the weekend was “nothing short of a nightmare.”
“The swans completely panic”, she said, “trying desperately to scatter and get away from the deafening sounds of explosions.
“I will never forget the noise the swans made, flapping their wings profusely, trying to fly in whichever direction they could, being separated from their families, while trying to avoid the fire and fireworks.
“Heartbreakingly, many swans weren’t able to take off in time and had to endure the display for the duration. Unacceptable.”
While she didn’t attend the bonfire and fire this year either, she read about the swans on social media.
Mrs Leask, who has formerly worked as a veterinary receptionist with a local practice, 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.”
‘Disgust’ at stress caused to animals by bonfire and fireworks event
With the help of her parents, Mrs Leask wrapped the cygnet in a blanket. They then moved him back to the water.
They kept an eye on the young bird for two hours to make sure it was okay.
She said: “I also put out a request on Facebook asking for help.
“I have been inundated since with messages of support. Folk shared their disgust at what had unfolded before them.
“Many commented that they hadn’t been focusing on the fireworks anymore. They were more concerned about the welfare of the wildlife.
“Many reported that the swans had flown at low height, above the crowd.”
Many told her they witnessed the swans going directly over the flames of the Kirkwall bonfire itself and in the direction of the fireworks.
She added: “I don’t know how anyone can now argue or debate that a change of location is essential.
“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.”
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