Call for Ban on Chinese Lanterns

As Chinese New Year Approaches they are blamed for causing fires

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A number of marine charities have come together to call for a ban on the sale and use of Chinese ( sky ) lanterns in the UK.

The lanterns have become extremely popular, not only on Chinese New Year ( Monday, January 23 rd) but at other celebrations, and are often visible floating up into the night sky.

With the Queen’s Jubilee and 2010 Olympics on the horizon, the charities have called on the authorities to follow the lead of many European countries and ban their manufacture, sale, and release in the UK.  

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the UK’s leading marine charity, says it’s delighted that Spain has become the latest in a number of countries banning the sale and use of Chinese (sky) lanterns. Their campaign is supported in Britain by the RNLI and NFU.

The lanterns, increasingly used in place of balloons, can be made of various materials including bamboo, oiled rice paper and wire. The charity says 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 they’ve disappeared over the horizon: It’s out of sight, out of mind: ”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 it’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 .”

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.”

NFU rural surveyor Louise Staples said: “We applaud the Marine Conservation Society’s drive to highlight the dangers that Chinese lanterns can cause to wildlife. Our members have already seen first-hand how they can harm – or even kill – 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.”

Emma Snowden says: “We don’t want to dampen Chinese New Year celebrations (23 rd 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.” She’s confident that the public would back a ban if they were fully aware of the serious damage lanterns could do: “When 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.

“We 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.”

January 20, 2012