Sky lanterns: the debate

Sky lanterns

Sky lanterns - Credit: Archant

They look very striking, but they can also cause fire and even death – that’s why the CLA is calling for a ban

As the days become longer and warmer, many of us look forward to summer evenings spent celebrating special events with our friends and family.

There are many excellent ways to mark a special occasion, from cakes and candles to singing and dancing.

In recent years sky lanterns have also become associated with celebrations. However, their release into the night sky risks causing devastating fires and killing livestock. That’s why we are calling for their ban.

Farmers and landowners in Kent have been voicing their concerns about sky lanterns since 2009, and the argument is certainly a compelling one.

Sky lanterns are made from paper and wire, sometimes including wooden parts too. Once lit, they can fly for up to 15 miles. However, they can come down early while the fuel for the lantern is still burning, and spark a blaze.

We have seen them cause ferocious and devastating blazes in the UK, not least the blaze last year at the Smethwick plastics recycling plant which left 11 firefighters injured as well as causing £6m of damage.

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The risk of serious fire is not our only concern. There have been unpleasant and upsetting instances across the country where livestock has died by ingesting the metal frames which have fallen to ground. It’s high time that action was taken to address this serious and unnecessary problem.

Sky lanterns represent a wholly avoidable risk to property, woodland, crops and livestock – launching a naked flame into the night sky, over which there is no control, is reckless.

While the industry has attempted to promote ‘environmentally-friendly’ lanterns, it is clear that the only responsible way forward is to stop their use.

This is not a radical solution. Sky lanterns are banned or restricted in the Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Germany, Austria and Malta. A number of authorities in England and Wales have also banned or restricted their use on council lands, including in Oxfordshire, Conwy, Cardiff, Port Talbot, Caerphilly, Birmingham and parks in London.

This is an excellent step in the right direction, and we would be delighted to see it replicated by authorities in Kent and across the whole of the UK.

We were disappointed last year that Government issued guidance on the ‘safe use’ of sky lanterns. I have considered the guidance carefully, and I cannot think of any circumstances where it is safe to launch these flying bonfires, whether over town or countryside.

The CLA is asking Government to ban sky lanterns, but we all have a part to play. Landowners can put in place a ban on releasing lanterns on their land, and we can all make the decision to celebrate our special occasions this summer in a safer way. n