Welfare concerns raised over Chinese lanterns

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Following a major fire in England yesterday an unlikely alliance consisting of the English National Farmers Union, the Women’s Food and Farming Union and the Marine Conservation Society linked up to raise the issue of fire dangers from the increasingly popular use of Chinese lanterns.

The fire in a paper and plastics recycling factory site was allegedly set off when a single lantern ignited the stored material.

The union has been campaigning for some time on the significant risks Chinese lanterns pose in causing fires in fields of standing crops and buildings and in buildings housing livestock. It claims to have received numerous reports from its members of harm to livestock, and in some instances death, caused by cattle ingesting the metal wires contained within the lantern frames.

Union members have also complained that when lanterns are chopped up during silage and hay making, the wire can get tangled around an animal’s feet or become embedded in its skin when the forage is eaten.

The union is also concerned about the bamboo frame used in the construction of most lanterns. These are very durable and prone to splintering, giving rise to problems similar to those found with metal wires.

For the union, Louise Staples said: “Our members know how dangerous these lanterns can be. We really would hope people would think twice about releasing them into the air because of the very real dangers they pose.”

Vice-president of the Women’s Food and Farming Union Eunice Finney said the lanterns were far more dangerous than fireworks. “We have warned the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that there could be a death next, while our politicians fail to act.”

And for the Marine Conservation Society, Mike Cook, said that as well as a fire risk, lanterns also pose a danger for wildlife when they came back down to earth or float out to sea.

“Lanterns floating over the sea have been mistaken for distress flares. We have received reports of numerous false alarms for the Coastguard and RNLI. MCS volunteers regularly find bits of lanterns on beaches during the hundreds of beach cleans we carry out every year.”