Sky lanterns or Chinese lanterns, and helium balloons

Sky lanterns, also known as Chinese lanterns, are small hot air balloons consisting of a paper-covered wire, rope or bamboo frame and a suspended open flame heat source. The heat source lifts the lantern into the air where it can then float for miles from the point of release. Once the flame goes out, the lantern can begin to fall back to earth. Sky lanterns have grown in popularity in recent years and are released into the sky at night at events such as weddings, festivals or commemorative events. As it is impossible to control where the released lanterns will eventually land, they pose a number of potential hazards.

If you are applying to hold an event at one of our venues, or on council owned or leased land there may be a restriction within the licence to prevent the use of sky lanterns and helium balloons because of the hazards they pose to animals and the environment.

What are the hazards?

  • Animal welfare - injury and suffering - This can arise, for example, by livestock eating lantern parts when they land or by parts being accidentally chopped into animal feed during harvest. Sharp parts can tear and puncture an animal's throat and/or stomach causing internal bleeding and potentially death. Animals may also get caught up in fallen wire frames and suffer serious injury and distress in struggling to get free.
  • Fire - Risk to buildings, dry standing crops, forestry, hay/straw stacks and habitats. For example, a sky lantern was the cause of a massive fire at a plastics recycling facility in Smethwick. More than 200 fire fighters and nearly 40 fire engines were required to tackle the fire, which sent a plume of smoke rising some 2000 metres into the air. 
  • Litter - Wherever the depleted lanterns may fall, they inevitably litter the area in question.
  • Air safety - There is an air safety risk associated with possible "ingestion" of parts into aircraft engines.

What can you do?

  • Don't release sky lanterns or helium balloons yourself.
  • Discourage other individuals and organisations from using sky lanterns and raise awareness of the issues.
  • Consider alternatives to sky lanterns.
  • Pick up any lantern debris that you come across.

Alternatives to sky lanterns

There are many alternatives to using sky lanterns at events. These include:

  • Kites - ask guests to bring a kite, or even better, make their own small, simple ones out of recycled paper and sticks. Guests can write a special message on  them. Imagine a sky filled with a hundred dancing kites, which can be taken home as a keepsake.
  • Balloons on strings - attached to long strings and fixed to a marquee and given to children when they leave.
  • Indoor balloons - release a net of balloons indoors; balloon sculptures, relays or popping can be popular.
  • Lanterns hung on trees - light up pathways with solar or battery-powered lanterns.
  • Communal planting of a tree or shrub - provides a long-term contribution to an area.
  • Laser shows - only suitable at more remote venues.
  • Bubbles - especially effective when illuminated with coloured lights.
  • Glow sticks - always very popular with children!

Advice and guidance regarding sky lanterns

If you are applying for a premises licence from Herefordshire Council you may choose to make it a condition of that licence that sky lanterns will not be used.

If you wish to have permission to use council-owned land for a function, you will not be permitted to allow the release of sky lanterns.

We are raising awareness about the dangers of releasing sky lanterns and have consulted widely including with the Fire Rescue Service who fully support these measures, to reduce the risk of both industrial and domestic fires.  Wildlife charities and farming organisations continue to lobby Government to ban the release of sky lanterns nationally.