Farmers in Chinese lantern plea after mass skyfall

A farming couple who experienced a mass landing of sky lanterns on their farm are urging people to stop releasing them into the air because they pose a fire risk and can injure livestock.

Beef and arable farmers Tony and Sue Robinson of Sproutes Farm, Coolham, West Sussex, were shocked to find 28 lanterns on their farm last Sunday (22 September). A further eight lanterns were found on a neighbouring farm.

They said they were lucky to escape a fire after many of the lanterns landed while still alight, scorching the ground around them.

Mrs Robinson said: “All we want is for people to be aware of what could happen and we hope we will dissuade people from releasing Chinese lanterns.

“If this had happened three weeks earlier, during the dry weather, we could have had a major fire here as many lanterns landed in fields that were earlier growing maize.

“By the burn marks, many were still alight on landing. One landed yards from our supplies of winter straw and feed for the cattle.”

Chinese lanterns are widely considered by the public to be romantic and glamorous, but Mrs Robinson said in reality they were “dangerous litter”.

She added: “Bamboo framed lanterns, like the ones that landed on our farm, do pose a fire risk and they could be dangerous to livestock.”

The couple, who have a herd of Sussex cattle, have written to their local MP, Nick Herbert, making him aware of the problems sky lanterns cause.

They have also written to the three parish councils of Thakeham, West Chiltington, Shipley and Coolham, asking the councils to discourage the release of Chinese lanterns.

The NFU is logging problems caused by Chinese lanterns, to lobby for a ban.

AN NFU spokeswoman said: “Chinese lanterns with wire frames can kill or maim farm animals – cows have died from ingesting wire from lanterns.

“They can be accidentally harvested in grass crops that later become hay and silage. Animals can also get entangled in them.”

DEFRA has refused to impose an outright ban on sky lanterns and helium balloons following an assessment of their impact on livestock, the environment and crops by ADAS, which was funded by £25,000 from the Welsh and English governments.

The report, which was compiled from information from various stakeholders including the NFU, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and the Women’s Food and Farming Union (WFU), concluded that the risk of death and injury posed to livestock by sky lanterns was “low”.

The CLA condemned DEFRA’s decision and said it was based on a report that was “inconclusive and unsatisfactory”.

Meanwhile, the NFU has welcomed an announcement by the Vale of White Horse District Council in Oxfordshire, which has proposed a ban on releasing sky lanterns from public events and licensed premises.

“Hopefully, other district councils in Oxfordshire will ban them too,” added the NFU spokeswoman.

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