Sky lanterns and helium balloons
Sky lanterns, also called Chinese lanterns, consist of paper and a wire or bamboo frame with an open flame. The heat source lifts the lantern into the air where it can then float for miles from where they were released. Sky lanterns have grown in popularity and are released into the sky at night at events such as weddings, festivals or commemorative events. It is impossible to control where the lanterns will eventually land, so they pose a number of potential hazards.
If you wish to use Council-owned land for a function or event, you will not be permitted to allow the release of sky lanterns or balloons.
Helium-filled balloons are also sometimes released at events and similarly there is no control over where they end up. There are basically two types of helium balloon, foil balloons and latex balloons. The foil balloons (often referred to as mylar), are a bladder made of nylon that is covered with a layer of aluminium. Latex balloons are made from the sap of rubber trees – a natural substance and are biodegradable.
For any balloon release, you should only use balloons made from natural material.
Consider using kites, balloons on strings, or lanterns hung on trees, instead of a sky lantern or balloon release.
Why sky lanterns and balloons are a problem
Injury to wildlife and livestock - animals and birds may eat parts of sky lanterns or deflated balloons when they come down on land or in the sea. Parts may be accidentally chopped into animal feed during harvest. Sharp parts can damage an animal's digestive system and balloons may block it. Animals and birds may also get caught up in fallen wire frames or string and suffer injury and distress in struggling to get free, or starve to death.
Fire - falling sky lanterns may set fire to buildings, dry standing crops, forestry, stores of hay/straw, peat moorland, etc.
Litter - balloons and lanterns cause litter when they fall back to land, or into the sea or other water bodies
Air safety - balloons and sky lanterns may be drawn into aircraft engines or may be a distraction to pilots
Rescue services - sometimes lanterns are mistaken for distress flares. HM Coastguard and lifeboats have been called out on false alarms due to lanterns. The National Fire Chiefs Council has issued a position statement that it does not support the use of sky lanterns and asks members of the public and event organisers to refrain from using them.
Advice and guidance
The balloon industry has produced a Code of Conduct, with input from leading environmental organisations.
The Council advise anyone releasing balloons to closely follow the NABAS Code of Practice. These guidelines include a limit to the number of balloons that should be released, releasing only balloons made from appropriate material, and that no materials such as ribbons or strings are included or attached to the end of any balloons that are released.
It is a requirement that if you are releasing more than 5,000 balloons you must apply in writing for permission to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) at least 28 days in advance of the release because balloons can interfere with air traffic. The CAA offers guidance for anyone planning a major firework, laser show or sky lantern or balloon release. If releasing between 1,000 and 5,000 balloons, you should also seek advise from the CAA on what steps you need to take.
Event organisers (and/or managers of venues) are subject to The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and must ensure that a suitable and sufficient risk assessment has been completed prior to allowing the launch of sky lanterns.
They must also:
not launch sky lanterns in built up areas
avoid launching near roads, especially major roads or motorways
avoid standing crops or forestry, especially in dry conditions
not launch balloons or sky lanterns within 5 miles of any airport
inform the air traffic control at any airport or airfield and within 10 miles of the proposed launch site
inform the CAA if there is any airport or airfield within 10 miles of the proposed launch site
inform HM Coastguard if the sky lanterns are released near the coast or at sea