Marine charity backs Spanish ban on Chinese lanterns

WISHING to see a ban on the manufacture, sale and release of Chinese (sky) lanterns in the UK, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says it’s delighted that Spain has become the latest number of countries to outlaw the lights.

The lanterns, increasingly used in place of balloons, can be made of various materials including bamboo, oiled rice paper and wire.

They contribute to rising litter levels, and pose a threat to farm animals when ingested. They’re also potentially harmful to marine species from turtles to whales, and become a floating fire risk on land.

There are already bans or restrictions in Germany, Austria, Australia and Malta, as well as Vietnam where they have been blamed for a number of serious forest fires.

MCS is supported in its call for action on lanterns in Britain by the RNLI and the NFU.

Emma Snowdon, MCS Litter Campaigns Officer, says the problem is that people have no idea of the damager 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,” she says.

“These mobile fireballs have 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 mistake them for flares.”

And RNLI’s Head of Fleet Operations Hugh Fogarty adds: “2010 saw a significant increase in the number of lifeboat callouts to false alarms caused by Chinese lanterns and the RNLI ask anyone planning to release them anywhere near the sea to contact the Coastguard and let them know beforehand.”