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Published - 13/03/2013

Marine charity urges communities to help stop damaging balloon and lantern releases

Choking sea creatures and tangled up marine wildlife are the results of 'letting go'  

MCS is hoping to encourage communities to think again before organising balloon and sky lantern releases.

From charity releases to memorial events, letting hundreds, sometimes thousands of balloons and lanterns into the sky has become common practice up and down the country. But stunning as these releases may look, the results on the marine environment can be devastating.

MCS Pollution Campaigns Officer, Emma Cunningham says choking and entanglement are the biggest dangers that balloons and lanterns cause when they float back down to earth. "A turtle searching for food may mistake a deflated balloon for a jellyfish and swallow it up - the problem is the balloon will block the turtle's digestive system and lead to starvation and eventually death.

Lanterns floating over the sea have been mistaken for distress flares and resulted in false alarm call outs of coastguard staff."

Now MCS has produced a brand new guide to help people understand the dangers of mass releases. The 'Don't Let Go' downloadable action pack suggests alternatives to letting go and gives tips on how to go about stopping a planned balloon or lantern release in their local area.

"We're incredibly grateful to members of the public who tell us when these events are planned and our advice has already resulted in many balloon and lantern releases being stopped or changed for other activities. But obviously it's far better for people in the local area to contact event organisers and that's why we've created the action pack," says Emma Cunningham.

MCS is keen to point out that the charity doesn't want to spoil anyone's fun and the 'Don't let Go' campaign is all about education.

 "A number of organisations, including the National Farmers Union, RSPB and RSPCA are as keen as us to see a reduction in these releases. Livestock have been killed from eating broken up lanterns which are accidentally picked up by harvesting machinery and put into winter feeds. In 2010 a Cheshire farmer lost one of his pedigree cattle worth £1,000 after it died from eating the wire frame from a lantern," says Emma Cunningham.

The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) says the releasing of balloons and sky lanterns is increasing in popularity in Northern Ireland and they are urging people to consider the consequences before letting go.

UFU's President Harry Sinclair says: "The debris from these items often falls into farmers fields, littering them and potentially hurting livestock. For example, there is the very real possibility that livestock will eat the metal wire frames of the lanterns, which can then pierce their internal organs and cause life threatening damage. Even biodegradable eco-friendly lanterns pose a serious risk to livestock. The bamboo frames of these lanterns can be chopped up during the silage and hay making period and may be ingested by livestock at a later date causing serious internal damage."

In Wales, MCS, along with Keep Wales Tidy (KWT) and Cardiff Council supported eco-schools in Cardiff in running a petition urging the Welsh Government to ban all intentional outdoor balloon and lantern releases. As a result, the Welsh Environment Minister has asked officials to collect further evidence on this issue and in England, Defra are also carrying out an independent study looking at the impacts.

K W T's Sarah Philpott says "Clearly we're hopeful of a legislative change here in Wales. In the meantime it's important that people appreciate the unnecessary harms caused by releasing balloons and lanterns. Along with our partners, we're inviting organisations to make a voluntary pledge to not carry our releases".

At least 25 local authorities have agreed not to allow releases on their land and we're pleased to discuss the alternatives with businesses and charities who may be contemplating a mass release of balloons or lanterns," says Emma Cunnngham.

The 'Don't Let Go' action pack can be downloaded at  where you can also find details of where to report forthcoming events.


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