Swift action shows that balloon 'Don't Let Go' campaign is vital

Richard Harrington By: Richard Harrington
Date posted: 15 July 2010

Swift action shows that balloon ‘Don’t Let Go’ campaign is vital The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says a swift that fell to earth entangled in a spent balloon and its string, clearly shows the dangers of mass releases seen at many outdoor events during the summer.

Swift action shows that balloon ‘Don’t Let Go’ campaign is vital The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says a swift that fell to earth entangled in a spent balloon and its string, clearly shows the dangers of mass releases seen at many outdoor events during the summer. The swift plummeted to the ground in the garden of Fran Crowe, an artist based in Sudbourne in Suffolk. Ironically, Fran is a supporter of MCS and its campaign ‘Don’t Let Go’, which encourages people not to allow balloons to float away either individually or en masse. “As an artist I have been working on creating art from the litter found at my local beach, and know that wildlife can become entangled in strings and labels attached to balloons. So it was totally bizarre that the very thing I’m campaigning against should, quite literally, land on my doorstep.” Fran and a friend were in her garden when the bird fell from the sky like a stone. “There was no movement at all. But luckily my friend is involved with a local wildlife group and was able to dis-entangle the little swift, which we were amazed to see was still alive. It looked as if the bird had flown into the latex balloon as it was completely encased. Swifts can fly as high as 10,000ft and sleep on the wing. Frankly if the bird had landed almost anywhere else it would certainly have died.” The balloon had been released the day before during a charity event for Marillac Care in Brentwood, a nursing home for people with physical disabilities. The Marine Conservation Society and Fran Crowe immediately got in touch with Marillac to explain how their balloon, released in good faith, had almost killed the swift and how other birds who may have been flying at the same time, may not have been so lucky. Marillac promised to discuss the issue of balloon releases and League of Friends committee member, Derek Fawbert, was soon back in touch with the Marine Conservation Society: “We unanimously agreed that there should be a cessation of further balloon races at The Marillac with immediate effect. We had no idea that releasing balloons could potentially prove fatal to wildlife both in the sky and at sea. MCS told us that balloons in the sea were often mistaken by turtles for jellyfish and swallowed. We hope other organisations will follow our lead and look at alternative ways to raise money.” MCS Litter Projects Officer, Rachel Bailey, says she’s delighted by Marillac’s ‘swift’ move: “Balloons have been found ingested in endangered turtles, dolphins, whales and seabirds. Autopsies on many marine animals commonly find balloons. Even a green turtle has been washed up on a beach near Blackpool with its gut blocked by a balloon. Despite balloon companies saying their balloons are environmentally friendly, this is usually just to boost their business. In the sea, balloons may take many years to break down and any plastic ribbon attached to the balloons will take hundreds of years to break down.” The MCS call to ban balloon releases has the support of the RSPCA, RSPB, Keep Britain Tidy and the National Farmers Union. Companies like Sainsbury’s, Norwich Union, TGI Fridays and Marks and Spencer have banned the use of balloon releases in their activities, and a number of councils have banned balloon releases from their land. MCS’s Rachel Bailey says she hopes other charities will take a lead from Marillac and investigate other ways of raising cash. “Virtual balloon races exist! You can sponsor balloons, set them off from a precise location and track them online to see where they end up. Balloons travelling the world with no harm to the environment - great!”

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