Beautiful, aren’t they? I must admit the first time I saw a paper sky lantern I was enchanted – like ghosts lifting up, escaping the ground, I thought… They give a sense of the most elegant ritual, turning any outdoor space into a cathedral.
Until recent years, I never gave too much of a thought to what happens when they land. Like so many other things, its a matter of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Particularly as many of the lanterns available now are made from bamboo and other biodegradable materials. Its easy to convince yourself that its FINE if its biodegradable – what harm can it do?
But these days, more often than not, my usual view of sky lanterns is this one. Found at Merrions Wood (yes – INSIDE the woodland). Never mind the choking hazard to agricultural livestock – these things sometimes come down to earth still smouldering. And in a dry year like we’ve had lately – whole sites could be lost to fire.
We seem to think that we can release items into the environment and that once our enjoyment of them ceases, they simply cease to exist too. But I’m afraid that’s just not the case, and people need to be made aware of the environmental problems inherent in releasing ballons and lanterns. Not only is it just plain and simple littering en masse (which was, last time I checked, still illegal), but it can directly cause suffering and death in wild and domestic animals.
Now, not to put too fine a point on it, but there was a publicised balloon release this week in Walsall, which (rightly) caused a lot of concern on twitter (and no doubt in a few living rooms). “How can the Council participate in and publicise something like a balloon release and an event like Peregrine Watch in the same week?” A good question, but actually really simple to answer: the Council is, rather than being a well-oiled machine of one mind and one purpose, made up of lots of HUMANS. 99.9% of council humans that I’ve met in my two years at Countryside Services, are actively and genuinely PRO wildlife. So I find it hard to believe that the same people would consider the implications of balloon releases, weigh it up, and then figure “oh what the hell, screw the hedgehogs – ballons are so PRETTY!”.
In reality, I think what we’ve witnessed is a simple and honest lack of awareness of the problem. And the best way to combat a lack of knowledge? We arm ourselves with facts. So here is some information for you:
As you will see when you read these, its not just the balloons that are an issue, its the string too, which can entangle mammals, birds and marine creatures. Entanglement, strangulation, suffocation and, even worse, starvation due to blockage in the digestive system are just some of the ways that animals can be harmed by balloon releases.
Irrespective of direct threats to animals, above all, we’re talking about large scale litter. Even biodegradable litter is illegal.
Several local authorities in the UK have banned balloon releases – including Rochford District Council, Plymouth City Council, South Hams District Council, Oxfordshire County Council and even the Shetland Islands Council. Coventry City Council recently rejected a petition to ban balloons. The Birmingham Environmental Partnership have issued guidelines re balloon releases, which suggests keeping releases to under 1000 balloons – but have not banned them. We have a unique opportunity to take a lead in the Midlands and prioritise our fantastic, diverse and inspiring urban wildlife.
I’m very proud to work for a Council that recognises the intrinsic value of our wildlife and countryside sites – and I KNOW that we’ve got it in us to step forward and place our natural heritage over our need for gimicks or even aesthetics. We need to educate our events coordinators, and in particular, our schools about this – there’s no need to place blame or to reprimand anyone. We just need to move forward and STOP DOING IT.