Advice on sky lanterns and helium balloons

We have joined other local authorities and organisations such as the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in raising our concerns about the release of 'Sky' or 'Chinese' lanterns and helium-filled balloons.

We would urge all individuals and organisations to stop the release of helium filled balloons and Chinese style lanterns. To assist in this aim South Ayrshire Council has prohibited all intentional helium balloon and Chinese/sky lantern releases on council owned land and property and at events endorsed or supported by the council, including those on non-council land.

The release of helium balloons and sky lanterns has increased in recent years. These balloons and lanterns pose hazards to wildlife and livestock causing injury and death. Lanterns can also cause injury to humans, damage to buildings, woodland, agricultural land and result in callouts to the Fire and Rescue Services.

In Scotland, the NFUS has reported finding lantern remains on farmland and there is a fear that these can cause similar choking hazards to farm animals and wildlife.

Chinese (or ‘Sky’) lanterns consist of a paper-covered wire or bamboo frame and an open flame heat source, which lifts the lantern into the air where it can float for miles from the point of release. Once the flame is extinguished the lantern falls back to earth.

Chinese lanterns can be dangerous to animals;

Lanterns pose a threat to animals, as they can cause injury, suffering, and death, through;

  • Ingestion
  • Entanglement
  • Entrapment

When eaten the sharp parts of a lantern can tear and puncture an animal’s throat or stomach, causing internal bleeding.

Animals can become tangled in fallen lantern frames and suffer from injury and stress struggling to get free, or starve to death. Marine life is also endangered by lanterns falling into the sea.

Fire Risk

Sky lanterns can cause fires, which destroy habitats and set animal housing, feed and bedding alight. Fire services have issued warnings to people about these following incidents such as the Smethwick recycling plant fire.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘biodegradable’ lanterns are safe either. Bamboo can take decades to degrade and there is still a fire risk.

Alternatives

If you are planning a fundraising event or celebration we would urge you to consider using an alternative to Chinese (or ‘Sky’) lanterns. The Marine Conservation Society’s Don’t Let Go campaign suggests alternatives as noted below:

  • Prize balloon popping – Hide a few prizes inside air filled balloons. Release balloons indoors and let everyone pop them to find the prizes. Also works well with choosing raffle ticket winners.
  • Balloon relay – Each member of a team has to run a short distance and sit on a balloon to pop it before running back to tag the next member of the team. The first team to pop all their balloons wins!
  • Balloon sculpture – Use your balloons to make an unusual but fun sculpture or even a balloon arch.
  • Balloon art – Hire a balloon artist to create balloon animals.
  • Guess the number of balloons – Fill a car with balloons and the correct guess gets a prize (could you get the local car dealer to donate the car as a prize?).

Download the Don't Let Go campaign poster.

Trying to raise lots of money without spending much? Try these events instead:

  • Sponsored events – All it costs you is a sponsorship form. Find some willing individuals to do sponsored running, walking, swimming, pogo jumping… whatever you like!
  • Auction – Ask people and local companies to donate prizes and hold an auction to raise money for your cause.
  • Virtual balloon release –You can sponsor balloons, set them off from a precise location and track them online to see where they end up. Balloons travelling the world with no harm to the environment (just check the company doesn’t also support actual releases!).
  • Music concert – Support new local bands and host a night of musical entertainment. Tickets for the concert all go to your cause and musicians get a great chance to showcase their talent.
  • Colour code yourself – Dress in green / blue / neon pink and donate money to charity, e.g. MCS’s Big Blue Day to coincide with World Oceans Day on 8 June.

Balloons are often released to commemorate or raise awareness, here are some other ideas:

  • Planting trees or flowers.
  • A memorial bench.
  • Lighting candles.

Need an event for kids?

  • Paper plane competition (also works for adults – brings out the competitive side!), with a prize for the plane that travels the furthest.
  • Plant a tree to mark a class leaving school.
  • Get all the children within the same school year to make a clay or paint collage of their handprints – a beautiful, personal memento of the year.
  • Easter egg or treasure hunt.
  • Organise a kite fly – it looks spectacular and is cheap and fun to organise.

We encourage the public to act responsibility and consider the risks posed through the release of helium balloons and sky lanterns, particularly to livestock and the environment.

Should you require any further information please contact us on environmental.health@south-ayrshire.gov.uk