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Today’s the Chinese new year, the first day of the Year of the Dragon. But the recent vogue for marking this and other events with flying lanterns has caused concern that is spreading across Europe. The UK Government remains under pressure to ban so-called ‘Chinese’ lanterns, or sky lanterns after the products were prohibited from sale or use in Spain.
The Spanish authorities said the flying lanterns, a signal of good luck and hope, posed a risk of burns and fire because, after launching, they fly through the air without control. It comes after record numbers of lanterns were found in fields by farmers across the UK following the New Year celebrations, rural insurer NFU Mutual reported. A spokesman from NFU Brussels said: “The Spanish have found, as we have in the UK, that flying lanterns are a disaster waiting to happen. Over the past few years there have been numerous cases of crops and buildings catching alight in the UK causing thousands of pounds worth of damage.” Last year Jim Paice MP, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food answered a parliamentary question about sky lanterns and indicated that the government was aware of the problem – but stopped short of undertaking to do anything useful about it.
We are aware of the concern among farmers and the wider agricultural community about the potential risks of lanterns. We are continuing to work with other Departments and the agricultural industry to address them. Sky lanterns can seriously injure or even kill cattle because the animals sometimes eat the lanterns’ wireframes. There is also the problem of litter caused when the smouldering remnants of lanterns fall into farmers’ fields. In the summer I asked the British Hospitality Association to advise hotels, restaurants and other venues to discourage customers from using sky lanterns because of the problems they are causing in the countryside. We also take steps to make the public aware of the problems which sky lanterns can cause before using them. (Hansard)
However Cumbrian MP Tim Farron is campaigning for the UK to follow the Spanish example.
I am bemused that while Spain has gone so far as to ban the lanterns completely, our Government has not yet taken even the simple step of ensuring that the products are made safely. These lanterns are a spectacular sight to enjoy but many people don’t realise the harm they can do. The UK needs to follow the Spanish example and consider prohibiting sky lanterns in order to protect wildlife and farm animals. At the very least we must make sure they are made from biodegradable materials that won’t maim our livestock. (Cumbria Crack)
Farron is joined in calling for action against these lanterns by the NFU, the Marine Conservation Society and, perhaps unexpectedly, one of the UKs most powerful and influential charities, the RNLI. RNLI’s Head of Fleet Operations Hugh Fogarty said:
2010 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.(MCS)
We can also do our bit to prevent this growing problem. There are plenty of fun alternatives to sky lanterns, and just like balloon releases, the problem is one we can solve ourselves if we make sure that people understand why it’s important. There are very few people who’d deliberately want to risk damage to houses and injury to livestock, let alone litter across the countryside and beaches. So if you know of a planned lantern release, don’t be afraid to ask the organisers to think again. Sign the online petition here.