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Environmental groups call for total ban on releasing balloons and Chinese lanterns

Releasing balloons and Chinese lanterns is a popular way of celebrating. Photo: ITV West Country

Environmental groups are calling for a total ban on the release of balloons and Chinese lanterns, arguing that they are a danger to wildlife.

The National Farmers' Union, the RSPCA and the Marine Conservation Society are all in favour of a nationwide ban.

They say the amount of litter on UK beaches from balloons and lanterns has nearly doubled in a decade.

The balloon and lantern debris washes up on beaches and endangers wildlife. Credit: ITV West Country

Releasing balloons and Chinese lanterns has become a popular way of remembering and celebrating.

But when they return to earth they can be dangerous.

Jennifer Birtwhistle's horse Fiesty died after it choked on a balloon in its field.

'It was dusk. She thought it was a bit of hay probably to start with. She'd eaten the string and was choking on the string. And then the rest of the balloon got round her eyes and ears. With the crackling and the panic and the darkness, she would have been absolutely terrified.'

– Jennifer Birtwhistle
Jennifer Birtwhistle's horse Fiesty was tangled up in a balloon. Credit: ITV West Country

The Balloon and Party Professionals Association says only biodegradable latex balloons should be released and they shouldn't have a string on them.

But many environmentalists say even latex balloons do not break down quickly enough to be safe.

The string on some balloons can also be dangerous for animals. Credit: Ocean Conservancy

Cornwall Council was one of the first authorities to ban the release of balloons or lanterns on public land or at any licensed events.

The ban came in response to an increase in litter on Cornish beaches.

The Marine Conservation Society says it is finding more balloon and lantern debris than ever before.

They're becoming an increasing problem. Over the past 7 or 8 years, the balloon litter we're finding has almost doubled. We used to find about 2 pieces of balloon litter for every 100 metres we surveyed, now we're finding almost 5 pieces. And we're finding increasingly bits of Chinese lanterns as well: the paper, the wire bits, even the bamboo bits from the ones that are supposedly biodegradable. So it's an increasing problem.

– Dr Sue Kinsey, Marine Conservation Society

A total of 31 local authorities including Plymouth Council have now banned balloons and lanterns.

The RSPCA and the National Farmers Union say this is not enough and a UK-wide ban is needed.

But many councils around the the country argue that it would be difficult for them to police a ban without added support.

Devon County Council says it would be more practical to change the law on a national scale.

A ban would be difficult to regulate or enforce without having any powers to do so. We believe that this is a matter for the Government to legislate on, and that it is more effective to continue supporting representations to wholesalers and supermarkets nationally to withdraw these items from their shelves.

– Devon County Council
Despite the danger to wildlife balloons are extremely popular. Credit: ITV West Country

An American company announcing it wanted to hold a huge lantern releasing festival in Bristol received mixed responses from the public.

When The Lights Festival was announced on Facebook organisers assured people they leave no trace behind.

Despite this, there was such a backlash about the environmental impact that the post was deleted.

Bristol Council says it has not yet received an application for the lantern festival, and any request for permission would be refused on fire safety grounds.