I’ll never forget the first time I looked down at the Glastonbury site from the Stone Circle and saw a cloud of paper lanterns raising candles up to the night sky, as if spiriting our collective dreams into the beyond.
Unfortunately, their growing popularity at festivals, weddings and funerals has had a disastrous impact on livestock and the environment, leading many organisations including the National Outdoor Events Association and National Farmers Union to call for a legal ban on their sale.
A Chinese lantern, also known as a ‘sky lantern’ is a paper-covered wire or bamboo frame containing an open flame heat source which lifts the lantern into the air, where it can float for miles. When they come down while alight they can start serious fires. Once extinguished it will fall to earth, where the frame can wreak havoc with livestock. The lanterns are already completely banned in Germany, Australia and Malta.
At Worthy Farm, where lanterns have killed two cattle and provoked many complaints from neighbouring farmers, the Glastonbury festival appears to have now successfully banned them. Earlier this year Michael Eavis explained his concerns, which go beyond the most obvious risk of starting a fire which could spread quickly among the densely packed tents:
“The lanterns can land on grass in farmers’ fields which is made into hay and silage for winter fodder and fed to cattle. The operation of cutting and collecting the grass will chop the wire or bamboo frame of the lantern into needle sized pieces. These will be digested by the animals into their stomach possibly resulting in a slow and painful death.”
The RSPCA, one of several national organisations now calling for them to be withdrawn from sale, also cites examples of wild creatures getting caught in intact frames, which can tear or puncture the throat or stomach, cause extreme stress or lead to starvation. Lanterns also set animal housing, feed or bedding alight, and destroy natural habitats.
Lanterns falling into the sea also threaten marine life. A survey by the Marine Conservation Society found a significant increase in paper, rubber and metal debris on beaches, while the UK Coastguard reports an increased number of false alarms caused by flying lanterns mistaken for distress flares.
A Chinese lantern caused last year’s fire at a recycling plant in Smethwick, which burned for several days, injured eleven firefighters and caused £6m worth of damage.
Other organisations supporting a ban include the Soil Association and the Association of Festival Organisers.
The NOEA has set up a parliamentary petition and is requesting information from anyone who’s witnessed the impact of this damaging trend. You can submit any observations via their standard contact form.
And there’s one more thing you can do – if you see the frame of a lantern lying around, pick it up and dispose of it safely.
Article Written by Hope Wisechild