Chinese lanterns pose a threat to wildlife, livestock and other animals by causing injuries that lead to suffering and a slow painful death.
The RSPCA advise against the use of Chinese lanterns and recommend the use of harmless alternatives instead.
What are Chinese or 'sky' lanterns?
Often used in celebrations such as weddings, they tend to be made of a paper-covered wire or bamboo frame and an open flame heat source.
Heat lifts the lantern into the air where it can float for miles from the point of release. Once extinguished, a lantern will fall back down to earth, endangering the lives of animals both on the ground and in water.
What harm can be caused by a Chinese lantern?
Chinese lanterns can cause injury, suffering, and even death, through:
Livestock (e.g. cattle) can eat or become caught in lantern debris in grazing vegetation, or eat lantern parts accidentally chopped into animal feed during harvest.
If an animal eats sharp lantern parts, these can tear and puncture the throat, stomach or internal organs causing internal bleeding or, in worst cases, death.
An animal that has become trapped or entangled in a fallen lantern can suffer from injury, stress and panic as it struggles to free itself, or eventually die from starvation.
There is the risk of fire caused by lanterns falling to the ground whilst alight - this can destroy habitats and set fire to animal housing, feed and bedding.
Evidence of the dangers of Chinese lanterns
Farmers and landowners have called for a ban on Chinese lanterns, following a number of cases in livestock and horses. The UK Government are now launching an independent study to assess the risks sky lanterns pose to livestock, crops and the environment and see what could be done to address concerns about them.
This barn owl (photo by Simon Pain @ Billow Farm) was found dead after becoming trapped in, or colliding with, a lantern.
Lanterns fall into the sea, endangering marine life. Fire services have issued warnings to people because of the fire risk, and lanterns have already been banned in some countries.
Please use alternatives to Chinese lanterns
With estimates of 200,000 lanterns being released each year, we are appealing to anyone thinking of using Chinese lanterns in their celebrations to use alternatives instead. A few ideas:
- Use stationary candles, nightlights, static lanterns or outdoor lights to create a fun and cosy atmosphere.
- Write a word or name onto a candle and let it burn down to make a symbolic wish or memorial.
- Plant a tree or donate to a good cause to honour the memory of a loved one.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘biodegradable’ lanterns are safe! Bamboo can take decades to degrade and the sharp parts can cause injury to animals, plus they still pose a fire risk.
What can you do to help?
The RSPCA and many other organisations including the Marine Conservation Society, Women’s Food and Farming Union (WFU), Soil Association and National Farmers Union (NFU) are calling for a ban on Chinese lanterns.
You can help reduce the risks to animals of Chinese lanterns:
- Pick up any lantern debris you see.
- Discourage others from using lanterns.
- Contact event planners and retailers asking them to seek harmless alternatives.
- Contact local councils about planned releases and discourage organisers from holding them.
- Write to your local MP (England) or AM (Wales).
- Spread the word!
Chinese lanterns in Wales
There is the power to legislate on this issue in Wales - please see Chinese lantern brief - Wales (PDF 916KB) from RSPCA Cymru.
Please download our Chinese lanterns (PDF 137KB) factsheet.