Comment: Douglas Chalmers

Photo: Tim Ireland/PA Wire
Photo: Tim Ireland/PA Wire
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Picture the scene - dusk is falling at the end of another perfect summer evening. The wedding reception has been a resounding success and the hosts are preparing the next part of the entertainment for their guests.

As the night thickens, the sky lanterns are lit, they soar prettily into the darkening sky and the guests look up in wonder. They wonder - will a lantern tip its flaming wax on to the face of a young child? Will one entangle a barn owl, leading to its terrible death? Or will one fall on a factory causing £6m of damage?

This may all sound rather melodramatic but these are real examples of just some of the problems that have been caused by the release of sky lanterns and why, as we enter the wedding season, the CLA is renewing its call for government to ban these airborne menaces.

The biggest issue with sky lanterns is that it’s impossible to control where they land. I’m sure the organisers of a recent event near Holy Island in the North East didn’t intent to start a fire in sand dunes that took 20 firefighters four hours to extinguish, but that’s what happened. Likewise, nobody would wilfully inflict a slow and agonising death on livestock but this too has happened in separate incidents in Cheshire, Northamptonshire and Suffolk where cattle have ingested sky lantern frames and suffered internal bleeding.

There are countless other examples, not just in the UK. Sky lanterns have caused the death of a 10 year-old boy in Germany and they have been banned in many countries and in parts of others, including China.

From an early age we are told that fire is dangerous so why does common sense go out of the window when it comes to a floating bonfire that can fly for up to 20 minutes over several miles?

Even before they land they are dangerous. Fire services and coastguards are regularly called out when lanterns are spotted by well-meaning members of the public who mistake them for fires or distress flares. Not just a waste of time and money, but putting lives at danger if a real emergency occurs at the same time.

The summer months are the season of outdoor celebrations, and also the time when the environment is at its driest. Imagine a fire starting on one of our remote moors or in the depths of one of our forests. Before it could be discovered or accessed by emergency services, it could have such a hold that swathes of our countryside could be in the grip of wildfire, with incalculable risks to human life, livestock, wildlife, property and the environment. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the news footage we’ve seen from the US or Australia could happen here in rural Yorkshire.

Call me a kill-joy and a scare-monger but the fact is that there are no circumstances under which releasing sky lanterns can be considered remotely safe. Our countryside contains houses, farms, farmland and woodland where people’s and animals’ lives could be put at risk. Surely no form of entertainment is worth the risk of death and destruction.

The Government has indicated it will consider a ban on sky lanterns if we have enough evidence of the damage they cause. Anyone who has experienced sky lanterns falling on their land or property should email: north@cla.org.uk or call 01748 907070.

Douglas Chalmers is director of policy and public affairs at the Country Land and Business Association in the North.