Conservation group calls on UK authorities to take similar action to stop damage to environment and harm to wildlife
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the UKâ€™s leading marine charity, says itâ€™s delighted that Spain has become the latest in a number of countries banning the sale and use of Chinese (sky) lanterns, and wants to see a ban on the manufacture, sale and release of the lanterns in the UK.
There are already bans or restrictions in Germany, Austria, Australia and Malta and Vietnam, where they have been blamed for a number of serious forest fires. MCS is supported in its call for action on lanterns in Britain by the RNLI and the NFU.
The lanterns, increasingly used in place of balloons, can be made of various materials including bamboo, oiled rice paper and wire. They contribute to rising litter levels, and pose a threat to farm animals when ingested. They also potentially harmful to marine species from turtles to whales, and become a floating fire risk on land.
Emma Snowden, MCS Litter Campaigns Officer, says the problem is that people have no idea of the damage the lanterns can do as once theyâ€™ve disappeared over the horizon: Itâ€™s out of sight, out of mind: â€The turn of the year saw increasing numbers of lanterns released in celebration and the forthcoming Diamond Jubilee and Olympics, could see unprecedented numbers lit and let go. These mobile fireballs have to come down somewhere, and itâ€™s often on farmland or out at sea. We have received reports of numerous false alarms for the Coastguard and RNLI after people have seen them over the sea and mistaken them for flares.â€
RNLIâ€™s Head of Fleet Operations Hugh Fogarty said: â€œ2010 saw a significant increase in the number of lifeboat callouts to false alarms caused by Chinese lanterns and the RNLI asks anyone planning to release them anywhere near the sea to contact the Coastguard and let them know beforehand.â€
NFU rural surveyor Louise Staples said: â€œWe applaud the Marine Conservation Societyâ€™s drive to highlight the dangers that Chinese lanterns can cause to wildlife. Our members have already seen first-hand how they can harm â€“ or even kill â€“ farm animals not to mention the fire risks to standing straw, thatch roofs and bales of hay and straw. It is vital that people throughout the UK realise this.â€
Emma Snowden says: â€œWe donâ€™t want to dampen Chinese New Year celebrations (23rd January) but the original Chinese lanterns were not designed to be air borne, they were created to hang on poles and decorate houses rather than fly off into the sky.â€ Sheâ€™s confident that the public would back a ban if they were fully aware of the serious damage lanterns could do: â€œWhen we reported the recent Spanish ban on our Facebook page we were amazed at the strength of feeling out of there, all of which backed a ban of both balloon and lantern releases.
â€œWe are already calling for a ban on balloon releases, but we are now extending our policy to include Chinese lanterns. Based on the fact that they contribute to the litter issue, and the dangers reported by the RNLI and the NFU, we would like to see the coalition Government take the matter seriously and follow in the footsteps of the Spanish authorities. We want the Olympic and Diamond Jubilee year to be remembered as one of great celebrations, not tragic accidents and a legacy of littering.â€