Farm minister Jim Paice has ruled out a ban on Chinese lanterns – despite acknowledging the danger they pose to livestock, crops and property.
“Chinese lanterns bring a lot of pleasure to people who let them off,” Mr Paice told Farmers Weekly.
“Unfortunately they don’t always realise the consequences of them.”
Cattle sometimes inadvertently swallow the wire frames used to construct the lanterns, which can be caught up in bales of hay and silage.
Rural leaders have also warned that summer weather has left crops susceptible to fire caused by lit lanterns drifting over the countryside.
Mr Paice said the government had worked with importers to persuade manufacturers to use bamboo frames, rather than wire.
“Sharp bamboo can be just as much of a problem and obviously there’s the fire issue,” Mr Paice acknowledged.
“I understand people’s desire for a ban. We’re not overly keen on banning anything under the present government.”
Mr Paice did, however, recognise the need to make people aware of the implications of letting off the lanterns in the wrong place.
• See our video on sky lanterns.
Earlier this year, he wrote to the British Hospitality Association, asking it to discourage hotels, restaurants and other venues from using sky lanterns.
Mr Paice said: “I don’t want to stop people’s enjoyment, but I urge everyone to think twice about the impact of a sky lantern after it leaves their hands, and to find another way to celebrate.”
He added: “Anyone who’s seen sky lanterns at night knows how spectacular they are, but they probably don’t know how they can cut a cow’s insides to ribbons and be devastating to the countryside.”
Andrew Shirley, East Midlands director for the Country Land and Business Association, welcomed the letter.
But he said there was no assurance people would act conscientiously.
“When party-goers are in full swing they may not necessarily stop to consider whether or not conditions and locations are suitable.
“We don’t want to put a dampener on anybody’s celebration but we do have to try to safeguard the countryside and crops from fire – and animals from a horrible death.”