Concern over potential release of sky lanterns

Conservationists, farmers and emergency services advise against releasing sky lanterns to show support for the NHS, or to boost morale during the pandemic.

Sky lanterns being released at the 'Pennsylvania Sky Lantern Festival' in Pennsylvania, United States in September 2019. © Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Following suggestions that sky lanterns should be released to show support for the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic, a number of organisations have asked the public not to do so.

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There are worries that the sky lanterns, even those made from eco-friendly materials, could cause fires, littering, and injuries to domestic and wild animals.

“While we all want to show our gratitude, appreciation and love for our NHS heroes and so many other key workers right now, sky lanterns are not the way forward,” says broadcaster and scientist Dr Ben Garrod, Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Science Engagement at the University of East Anglia.

“Having been linked to devastating fires, indiscriminate littering of our countryside and the killing of wildlife, these things are a wasteful menace. These things are not only being sold irresponsibly, they are putting those we want to honour right now under even greater pressure. The last thing our emergency services and hospital teams need is to deal with the added burden of these fiery killers.”

Fire services are discouraging people from releasing sky lanterns, explaining that the lanterns pose a fire risk which would take up the time of emergency services.

The National Farmers’ Union has released a statement against the use of sky lanterns, saying “The NFU has campaigned against their use as we have heard from dozens of farmers over many years about the gruesome injuries sky lanterns have caused to their livestock and other animals, as well as devastating fire damage on farm to hay, straw and farm buildings. They also land as unnecessary litter wherever they fall.”

One company which had suggested this release for the NHS is Night Sky Lanterns, which has since withdrawn the connection with NHS and plans to donate the money to other charities, but will continue selling the lanterns and encourage the release of Union Jack sky lanterns every Sunday during the coronavirus pandemic. BBC Wildlife was not able to contact the company for comments.

Sky lanterns are banned in Wales, and in a number of counties elsewhere in the UK.

  • In December 2019, a zoo in Germany caught fire and more than 30 animals, including rare orang-utans and a chimpanzee, were killed after sky lanterns were illegally released nearby and were later found near the ape house.
  • In July 2018, a passenger plane flying at 20,000 feet high almost collided with a sky lantern above Cambridgeshire.
  • In October 2011, a dead barn owl was found tangled in a sky lantern at a Gloucestershire farm.

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Main image: Sky lanterns being released at the ‘Pennsylvania Sky Lantern Festival’ in Pennsylvania, United States in September 2019. © Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency/Getty