What goes up …

For some, the release of a sky lantern or group of balloons into the sky may be a way to remember a loved one or just a pretty sight in the sky – but what goes up does fall back down to earth again and effectively becomes litter and a hazard to the natural world as it does.

Balloons:

Whilst it is reassuring that NABAS (the Balloon and Party Professionals Association in the UK) are asking all of their members to say no to balloon releases – whilst it isn’t against the law they do still occur. Latex balloons are designed in such a way that, when properly inflated, should they reach a height of 5 miles up (which is possible) they shatter into miniscule pieces and then fall back down to earth (believed to be at a rate of 1 piece for every 5 square miles. With latex being made from the rubber tree sap – makes them natural right? So not a problem … wrong.

First of all – an assumption is made that they do reach the optimal height to shatter into tiny fragments which isn’t the case. It’s not unusual to see whole, deflated latex balloons on the ground – perhaps caught in a hedgerow, in a field, a tree or beach. There is evidence of them landing in waterways too – including open sea. Now you and I can tell what they are – animals can’t. There have been cases where they’ve eaten the balloons, mistaking them for food. Not only do they not taste nice (apparently) – they also lead to stomach impactions (not a fun way to die). It’s the waste of a life – killed by a balloon.

Sky lanterns:

Also known as Chinese lanterns – these usually have a nightlight candle inside. There’s no denying that they can look pretty as they float up to the heavens in the twilight skies … until you realise that they will ultimately fall back down to earth again. 

The lanterns are made from wire, paper and the candle. When it lands back down to earth – you have to hope that the candle has gone out. If not – you’re looking at the risk of a fire being started from it. Back at the start of 2020 you may recall a fire at the zoo in Germany? That was caused by a sky lantern set off to celebrate the new year … 30 animals perished in that fire including apes, monkeys and bats. Not much of a celebration.

Then there are those that fall to earth with the flame gone out – they basically become a snare. Like snares, they don’t discriminate about what they catch. It could be a barn owl, a lamb or even your dog who find themselves caught up in it – almost certainly causing serious injury if not proving to be fatal.

Litter Casualty – adult dead barn owl entangled in Chinese lantern. Photograph: RSPCA

Alternatives:

If you’re looking for an alternative way to celebrate or remember the life of a loved one – there are more environmentally friendly ways to do it.

  • Plant a tree in their name – pick a tree species native to where you are.
  • Throw wildflower seed bombs – not only will they look beautiful when in flower – they’ll also be great for attracting bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
  • Blow bubbles – thousands of bubbles floating in the sky can look really impressive!
  • Take a group hike along one of their favourite trails.

Take Action:

Both the RSPCA and the Countryside Online have campaigns running calling for an end to the release of balloons and sky lanterns. We support these campaigns and urge you to add your name in support too.

Please support our work

The Global Wildlife Rescue Project is a registered charity in England & Wales. Registered charity number 1188557.

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