Farmers are being urged to look out for sky lanterns as celebrations get under way for the Chinese New Year.

Celebrations for the Year of the Dragon started over the weekend but Chinese New Year is officially on Monday (January 23).

The NFU said it hoped the public would think twice about letting off Chinese lanterns over the next few days. There was no doubt some people would be keen to let off the popular lanterns, said NFU rural surveyor Louise Staples. The NFU wanted to ensure everyone realised the dangers they pose to livestock and the fire risks that come with releasing them into the environment.

“Our members know how these lanterns can harm or kill farm animals and they can also cause fires to thatch roofs and bales of hay and straw.

“We hope everyone has a wonderful Chinese New Year, which is always one of the most colourful celebrations in the calendar. But we would urge people to think twice about setting lanterns off.”

The NFU has been calling for an outright ban on the lanterns, which are already outlawed in Vietnam, parts of Germany and Spain.

The Marine Conservation Society is the latest organisation to join a growing list of those worried about the dangers of the lanterns.

Marine Conservation Society campaigner Emma Snowden said the lanterns contributed to litter issues and posed a threat to sealife. “We are confident the public would back a ban if they were fully aware of the serious damage lanterns could do,” she said.

Police, fire services and the coastguards have also called for the lanterns to be outlawed. But the government has ruled out a ban.

Cattle sometimes inadvertently swallow the wire frames used to construct the lanterns, which can be caught up in bales of hay and silage.

Last summer, farm minister Jim Paice called on importers to persuade manufacturers to use bamboo frames, rather than wire. Mr Paice said he recognised the need to make people aware of the implications of letting off the lanterns in the wrong place.

But a ban was unlikely, he added. “We’re not overly keen on banning anything under the present government.”