The recent Google doodle, featuring a mass of floating Chinese lanterns, made me somewhat irate. Not because it brought back traumatic memories of the film Frozen, but rather because it reminded me just how common this practice has become in the UK.

Humans have a fascination with lights, and there is no doubt that Chinese lanterns can make a delightful and moving spectacle at any celebration. Yet given the damage they cause, releasing these lanterns should only be seen not as a celebration but purely as an intensely selfish act. Here are a few headlines from recent years to demonstrate why:

Chinese lantern set horse on fire – should they be banned? – WARNING, graphic image

Chinese lantern sets fire to crop after landing in nearby field

Chinese lantern sets family home on fire as mother and her children slept inside

There is no doubt that Chinese lanterns pose a danger to crops, livestock and property. Yet there are also myriad less obvious risks, as a 2013 DEFRA report explains:

“The project team has concluded, on the basis of well-documented evidence received that sky lanterns pose a significant risk to the proper and effective operation of coastal rescue services. The risk is due to sky lanterns, particularly when red sky lanterns are deployed, being mistaken for distress flares”.

Even if there is only a tiny chance that your particular lantern will cause damage, or waste the valuable resources of organisations such as the RNLI, surely that’s enough to make you question the wisdom of releasing one. Rather than release a naked flame into the vulnerable countryside, why not find a safer way to celebrate?

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