This evening Cabinet voted unanimously to ban balloon and sky lantern releases from council owned land. It was the first time that I’ve actually spoken at a Cabinet meeting and to say that I’m thrilled by the result would be somewhat of an understatement.
It came about as a result of a public question to full council so never let it be said that council’s don’t listen to their residents. This was before I became Deputy Cabinet Member for Environment but is something of a personal cause. I can only thank my Cabinet Colleagues for agreeing with their crazy Deputy and putting the needs of our environment first.
We live right on the edge of a designated Marine Site, a special area of conservation because of its habitats and species. It’s an internationally important area for it’s migratory and breeding wildfowl.
Dolphins, Whales, Turtles and Sea birds have all been killed by balloons. Balloons floating in water look like squid or jellyfish to animals looking for food. The balloons block their digestive tracts when eaten so the animals starve to death. We’ve had whales full of plastic waste on our beaches, it’s time we all started to take more responsibility for our marine environment. Sea birds can get tangled and caught in balloon ribbon so they can’t fly or feed. Now I’m sure that watching hundreds of balloons being released into a sky can be a beautiful thing, but that few minutes can cause many long months of littering at best and be a direct cause of marine animals suffering long slow deaths at worst. As a memorial or celebration idea, environmentally its a terrible one. Littering in public is not allowed, so why should releasing these items be any different?
According to the Marine Conservation Society, average balloon litter levels have increased by 11% over the past couple of years and have tripled in the last decade.
Both balloons and sky lanterns can travel many miles before coming back down causing devastation. Sky lanterns have been known to be a fire risk to crops, hay and straw stacks and farm buildings, they have also caused the deaths of farm animals who have been burnt or have ingested their internal frames. There is also a cost to the emergency services from calls to the Coastguard when sky lanterns have been mistaken for distress flares, causing RNLI crews to spend time looking for vessels in distress.
Other councils and indeed entire countries have banned balloon & sky lantern releases, so I’m thrilled that it’s our turn to take responsibility for our environment and to be able to encourage others to do so. Hopefully we can encourage other local organisations and landowners not to allow them on their land either, the risk and damage to the environment is far too great.
So please, if you are organising a charity event, a memorial or a celebration – don’t think about balloon or sky lantern releases as pretty. They are not harmless fun to amuse the children, they cause real damage to wildlife. I know my children would choose the life of a seabird over watching balloons drift off over the horizon any day.