Is it time “lethal” Chinese lanterns were banned?

21 May 2015

The poignant act of releasing a Chinese lantern can have lethal consequences. We ask, will you be saying no to lanterns at your wedding?

They have killed farm animals and wildlife and caused devastating fires. But still people celebrate everything from their 21st birthday to their wedding day by launching Chinese lanterns. Bride takes a closer look at sister title Cotswold Life's ‘Ban the Lanterns’ campaign. Paul Keenan reports

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Image gallery

Simon Pain loves to walk the land of his Billow Farm, near Berkeley in Gloucestershire. But one such walk left this passionate farmer close to tears and determined to bring about a change in the law. Mr Pain found a barn owl caught in the remains of a Chinese lantern. The beautiful bird of prey was dead. Mr Pain had no way of knowing how long it had suffered but it had undoubtedly been a slow and agonising death. For what? So that party-goers could launch a blazing lantern into the night sky.

Jirka Matousek

Is the impact worth it?
Those few minutes of celebration would have been quickly forgotten. But the impact can be unimaginable. Like the fire in Smethwick in the West Midlands, started when a Chinese lantern landed on a plastics and paper recycling plant in the summer of 2013.
It was the largest ever dealt with by the West Midlands Fire Service, with more than 200 fire fighters and 40 fire engines tackling the blaze. It destroyed 100,000 tonnes of recycling materials at a cost of around £6 million and left three fire fighters in hospital. The fire service had long opposed the use of the lanterns and called for an urgent review of the legislation in the aftermath of the devastating blaze. But despite voluntary bans being introduced by some county councils, Mr Pain says that in reality, little has been done.


The effect on livestock
Mr Pain, an arable organic and conservation grassland farmer at Billow Farm where he and his wife Hazel also run a popular livery yard, has heard too many stories of the ongoing suffering caused to farm animals. “Cows have died in agony with bamboo parts from the lanterns sticking in their throats,” he said. “Others have ingested wire from the lanterns into their stomachs. It is a simply horrific death. The lanterns were designed initially in China to be hung from trees. That is the only way they can possibly be used safely and then they would need to be got rid of safely. Even in China, they have been banned from flying in many areas. They are only launched over large areas of water.”

UK legislation
In the UK, the Government has left it to local authorities to make legal moves on the use of lanterns. Last year, Warwickshire County Council became the latest to ban people from setting off lanterns on council-owned land and property. Councillor Les Caborn said: “While these lanterns may look nice, when you launch them, they can cause untold damage to our countryside, wildlife and to businesses. I hope other residents follow our lead to ensure the safety of our communities.” The county’s community fire safety and arson reduction manager Moreno Francioso said it was a significant decision. “We know this won’t stop people launching them from their back gardens,” he said. “But we do hope that people will now think twice about the potential risks, before using them.” Other councils to introduce the ban include Cardiff city council and other county councils with large areas of rural land, including Norfolk, Staffordshire and Essex. But Gloucestershire is not among them. No formal motion has been brought to bring the same regulations to the county, with the authority preferring to leave it to individuals to make their own decisions on the use of the lanterns.

Fire hazard
Chief fire officer Stewart Edgar, of Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, is concerned at the dangers they cause. He said: “The use of Chinese paper lanterns has increased over the last few years. When they are released into the sky, they pose a significant risk to property and wildlife and have been linked to several large scale fires since their use became widespread. We strongly discourage their use and ask members of the public to look for safer alternative ways to celebrate.”

Action is needed
That’s not enough according to Mr Pain, also vice-chairman of Gloucestershire National Farmers’ Union. “The county council needs to take the lead here,” he said. “The very least they should do is ban them from their land.” Mr Pain is driving the NFU’s own campaign against the lanterns, which calls for an outright ban on their sale. “I’m delighted that Cotswold Life is launching this campaign,” he said. “We must get to the point when the lanterns are no longer used in our country.” Some venues have introduced biodegradable lanterns to try to lessen the potential risks. But Mr Pain said they were not the answer. “They still need to include wax blocks to light the lanterns, so the fire risk remains. The bamboo that can be so lethal to animals does not degrade for at least 30 years and the chemicals in the fire-retardant paper are also dangerous.”

Public call to action
NFU Deputy President Minette Batters said: “I know from personal experience just how dangerous sky lanterns can be after losing a cow from my own herd. It is really encouraging that local authorities are now starting to see sense and have banned the release of lanterns on their land. However, we would like to see many more follow suit. Members of the public can play a big part by writing to their local councils spelling out how dangerous sky lanterns can be. Please back British farming and think twice before setting sky lanterns alight and releasing them into the environment. The NFU continues to call for an outright ban and we will continue to lobby government until action is taken.”


10 reasons to ban Chinese Lanterns
1. The frames of lanterns can seriously injure or kill farm animals and other wildlife if directly ingested
2. Frames can be chopped into animalfeed during harvest
3. Animals can become entangled in lantern frames
4. Fire risk to standing crops and buildings
5. Civil Aviation Authority concerned lanterns can be drawn into aircraft engines
6. Lanterns have been mistaken for distress signals by coastguards
7. Cause litter wherever they land
8. Marine life endangered by lanterns falling into the sea
9. Biodegradable lanterns are still a fire risk - and bamboo takes decades to degrade
10. All lanterns are unpredictable because it is impossible to control where they land

Photo by Peacock Obscura

6 other ways to celebrate
1. Plant a tree to create a long-lasting memory of your occasion
2. Small firework displays
3. Stationary candles and nightlights
4. Static lights or outdoor lights
5. Blow bubbles - completely safe and come in all sizes from small bubbles to giant bubble makers
6. Pop a balloon – put raffle tickets in a balloon before blowing them up and pop them, rather than release them

This feature can be found in the July issue of Cotswold Life, available to buy at

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