Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

Chinese lanterns pose danger to livestock, NFU says

Chinese lantern
Farmers' union chiefs have written to the government about the lanterns

Chinese lanterns released into the air at outdoor events such as weddings are killing livestock, farmers say.

The paper lanterns with candles inside can float for several miles before crashing to the ground. They can cause injury or death if eaten by animals.

The National Farmers' Union has written to the government. Coastguards say they are often mistaken for distress flares.

UK-based maker Sky Lanterns says it is introducing safer lanterns and wants models using metal wire banned.

Farmers from across the country have contacted the BBC, complaining the lanterns are causing a serious problem.

The lanterns have long been used in ceremonies in Asia, where releasing them is thought to bring good luck and prosperity.

Pat Stanley, who breeds pedigree cattle near Coalville, Leicestershire, told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today she had found lanterns in her fields.

She said: "They may be very pretty, but they're incredibly dangerous and I would like to see them banned.

She had actually eaten part of the lantern and the fine wire inside it had punctured her oesophagus
Farmer Hugh Rowlands

"They're made of a hoop of bamboo, which in itself is a very sharp piece of wood when it's broken, and then there's a crosspiece of wire.

"If we silage-make in any of these fields, this is all going to be chopped to pieces if we don't see it and find it. That's going to go into my silage clamp and next year I'm going to have dead cows."

She added: "If you went fly-tipping rubbish in the countryside and somebody caught you doing it, you could be prosecuted. People can launch this rubbish into the air, it can cause tremendous damage and nobody knows where it's come from."

Hugh Rowlands, who farms near Chester, told Farming Today: "I found a pedigree Red Poll cow on her side in the field. She was struggling for breath and her neck had swollen up considerably and she actually died almost exactly 48 hours after we found her.

They're often mistaken for marine distress flares and every marine distress flare that we are notified about, we have to investigate thoroughly to make sure that there's nobody in distress or injured or needing assistance
Jeff Matthews, Maritime and Coastguard Agency

"I found the remains of a Chinese lantern within a few yards of where the cow had been lying... and it had been well-chewed.

"Consulting the vet, his opinion was she had actually eaten part of the lantern and the fine wire inside it had punctured her oesophagus. So she'd in effect spent a long, painful 48 hours suffocating on her own feed."

Ruth Pidsley, a farmer from the Wirral, said she had woken up one morning to find 57 Chinese lanterns dotted around her farm.

She said: "We have had a couple of cattle that have had some sort of eating problem, but we do just wonder whether it is due to the fact there have been little bits of wire in the silage."

'Fire hazard'

The NFU is encouraging farmers who experience problems with lanterns to write to venues near their farms pointing out the dangers and urging them not to use them.

Spokesman Mike Thomas said: "If swallowed, the wire could puncture the stomach lining and cause extreme discomfort and in some cases could prove fatal.

"There's also a good chance that the wire part of the frame could get wrapped around an animal's foot and become embedded in the skin which would be terribly painful."

The NFU is also concerned lit lanterns could set fire to fields of standing crops or straw, or to barns or thatched properties.

Coastguards have reported several cases of false alarms after lanterns were mistaken for red flares sent up by boats in distress.

We're working on a new Sky Lantern, which will be coming in in the next month or so, with no wire
Sky Lanterns

Jeff Matthews, a search and rescue operations manager from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, urged people living near the coast to notify coastguards if they were planning to let off the Chinese lanterns.

He told BBC News: "They're often mistaken for marine distress flares and every marine distress flare that we are notified about, we have to investigate thoroughly to make sure that there's nobody in distress or injured or needing assistance."

A spokesman for Essex-based Sky Lanterns said: "We're working on a new Sky Lantern, which will be coming in in the next month or so, with no wire.

"It has been a big issue - but if a problem comes up we like to look at it and work with people to see how we can resolve it."

He said other products on the market would continue to use wire, adding: "We would like a ban on the metal ones."

The company's website urges anyone planning to use the lanterns near the coast to notify coastguards and warns against releasing them near dry crops.

Sky Lanterns says its products are 100% biodegradable.



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