Sky lanterns: why you should think twice this winter

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The popularity of sky lanterns has increased in recent years. You may have even released one yourself in a celebration of some sort, especially given their traditional use during Diwali, Chinese New Year and Bonfire Night. But while they may be aesthetically pleasing, the damage caused to farmland, homes and animals over the years far outweighs the positives.

It’s due to the fire risks and environmental effects that the release of sky lanterns on council-owned property in the Wycombe district was banned in a number of years ago. And while it’s your choice whether to release lanterns or not on private property, a range of organisations including the National Farmers' Union, Marine Conservation Society and the Bucks Fire and Rescue Service have all warned against the implications.

Fire risk

In an article last winter, the Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service noted how sky lanterns – often made of paper, wire and bamboo and powered by a lit candle – could “rise to more than 1,000 feet, fly for up to 20 minutes and float for miles before landing.” In 2011, there was even a case of a stray lantern setting fire to a car in Chalfont St Giles after it was blown underneath the vehicle upon landing.

Therein lies the real problem with sky lanterns and other forms of floating firework. They look beautiful as they float off into the night sky, but for our few minutes of pleasure there are farmers, land owners and animals that pay the price. Each year, sky lanterns cause damage to farmland, buildings and thatched roofs when they land unextinguished, resulting in huge costs to land owners and farmers and proposing a significant risk to residential properties too.

Environmental impact

But while the fires caused by sky lanterns are a big issue, the effect on animals, livestock and the environment in general can be devastating too. The NFU has reported animals suffering gruesome injuries as a result of the wire left behind after the lanterns burn out, which can be accidentally ingested or become tangled around animals’ necks, feet and wings. Due to the uncontrolled nature of lantern releases this litter is difficult to track down and clean up.

False alarms

Sky lanterns have also been shown to cause issues for the coastguard services, acting as ‘false alarms’ when search and rescue units mistake them for distress signals. This can waste significant time, money and resources for a hugely important service.

Balloons and marine habitats

While the release of sky lanterns is now generally associated with Diwali, Chinese New Year and Bonfire Night, similar problems arise throughout the year in the form of balloon releases. The negative effects of balloon releases on marine environments has been made clear over the years and well documented by the UK Marine Conservation Society. Foil and Mylar balloons in particular can cause significant damage to marine wildlife and habitats.

In their 2015 Beachwatch Report, the Marine Conversation Society said: “Like sky lanterns, balloons are basically litter in the sky. Trouble is, it all floats back down to land, often many miles from where it was let go.”

Alternatives

There so many alternatives to sky lanterns during the festive season – including fairy lights, fireworks and bonfires – so why take the risk of causing fires, damaging property and inflicting injuries on animals? 

This winter, we encourage you to share this knowledge with friends and family and consider some different ways of celebrating, such as a building your own bonfire or putting on an epic firework display.

 

However you choose to celebrate, we wish you a happy and safe festive period.