Destination Unknown - The true cost of sky lanterns and balloons

Destination Unknown - The true cost of sky lanterns and balloons

This year we're continuing to work with Keep Britain Tidy on the Great British Spring Clean. Every day, our team is at the frontline of animal welfare and all too often our inspectors and animal rescue officers are called to rescue animals who are in distress as a result of litter entanglement.

In the last two years, we've received a whopping 8,092 calls about animals injured by or caught up in litter. That's an average of 11 incidents per day and they're only the ones we know about.

Balloons and sky lanterns are considered by many to be a symbol of hope and a gift to the heavens. And often used to mark the passing of a loved one, as friends and family congregate in remembrance. They're also commonly used in celebration, providing the opportunity to mark an event and create lasting memories and shareable moments.

A moment of joy can be devastating to unsuspecting animals

But what if our desire to remember our loved ones and to create new memories has unexpected and unintended consequences for innocent animals? Balloons and lanterns can provide short term enjoyment, with their glistening lights, pretty appearance and sentiment. Sadly, they can also have long term impacts that many of us might not be aware of.

After their release, balloons and lanterns have the potential to cause destruction, hurt, heartache, injury and in most severe cases, loss of life to wildlife, horses and livestock. Of course, at the moment of release, this reality is far from our minds as we celebrate and share something seemingly beautiful out into the world.

Loss of life or injury may sound severe or even shocking when talking about the potential impact of sky litter, a by-product of a well-intended moment etched in our memories, but it can and sadly does happen.

We're asking the Government to ban sky lanterns to save animals

That is why we've joined with the NFU, National Fire Chiefs Council, Keep Britain Tidy and 16 other organisations to write to the Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, to explain how the government's decision not to regulate sky lanterns is out of date and not in line with the actions of other countries, where sky lantern release is considered environmentally irresponsible and classed as a crime.

We're asking the Government to introduce a complete ban on the use of sky lanterns, to clamp down on the dangers and harm posed to our rural communities, horses, livestock and wildlife and we believe this can be achieved through the introduction of regulations under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The devastating result of 'pretty little litter'

Balloons and sky lanterns - although pretty - are still litter that we launch into the sky and whose journey's end we simply do not know. Many balloons have strings attached which mean that their journey could end wrapped around a branch in a hedgerow. Our animal rescuers are then called out (if we're lucky) to help poor birds that have become entangled.

Hopefully, we're able to free the bird from its predicament. However, in instances where the bird manages to free itself and fly off but still with the string wrapped around its legs, the consequences can be even more severe as the bird is likely to be restricted when it comes to feeding and likely will become entangled when they perch again.

While during the bird breeding season in the spring and summer, our hedgerows and woodlands will have populations of breeding birds, imagine now if you're a bird rearing its fledgelings in the nest when a balloon blows in nearby and gets entangled - it will stay there blowing around every time the wind blows - creating such distress for the parents working so hard to rear their young.

There is also the wider implication when balloons simply fall to the ground somewhere in a field where horses or livestock are grazing - if these animals ingest balloons the results can be fatal.

We should all consider sensible alternatives to 'pretty litter' to save these innocent animals.

'Naked' sky lanterns are just as dangerous

Even when launching a naked flame into the atmosphere, you still have no idea where its final destination will be. And when extinguished, they can still be a danger as the frame can contain wire or other parts which, if ingested, are likely to be fatal for horses, farm animals and our wildlife in general.

Not to mention, of course, the sheer fire hazard. When a sky lantern lands on flammable material, such as straw or hay, it can ignite causing serious potential harm to animals, buildings and anyone nearby and not least the loss of valuable food and bedding supplies.

Imagine the consequences of a lit or hot sky lantern drifting into a hay barn or into a stable with hay and highly combustible straw bedding; with terrified horses within unable to escape. It's easy to let off a naked sky lantern without being aware of the risks.

Now's the time to act

Sky lanterns are a serious concern and here at the RSPCA, we would like to see the release of them banned completely to save the unnecessary and often accidental devastation. We're passionate about spreading the reality of sky litter so that more animals can be saved. Please help us speak up for animals by sharing this blog with others and on social media.

Another 'pretty problem' is fireworks

Whilst some manufacturers have looked into biodegradable casings for fireworks, they're not currently widely available. With 21% of UK adults having planned to have firework displays at home and 20% attending firework displays at a friend's or family's homes in 2020, (due to restrictions on organised displays) the amount of litter fired into the night sky during this past firework season is incomprehensible and another reason why we're campaigning for change.

Join us in the Great British Spring Clean and be part of the million-mile litter picking mission.

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