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Written Statement - Proposed actions following the publication of the independent research report on the impact of mass releases of sky lanterns and helium balloons

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A study that identifies and assesses the risks of sky lanterns and helium balloons to: livestock, the environment, fire risk, marine life and consumer safety.
Alun Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food

On 2 July the Business Minister asked that I provide a written statement updating the Assembly on the proposed actions following the publication of the independent research report on the impact of sky lanterns and helium balloons on livestock, plants and the environment.

The evidence from this report suggests that any impact on the environment and risk of widespread injury or death to livestock is low. Given these findings, it would be difficult to justify a ban on either sky lanterns or helium balloons. However, I remain concerned about the issue and will continue to work closely with our partners, in particular Keep Wales Tidy, to ensure that impacts of sky lanterns and helium balloons are minimised. My Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Christianne Glossop has previously issued advice to raise awareness of the possible impacts on livestock health, welfare and risks to livestock buildings and will do so again shortly.

I will be writing to local authorities to encourage them to consider the risks from sky lanterns and helium balloons in their areas. The report provides evidence that two Welsh local authorities have already introduced a voluntary ban on the release of sky lanterns on Council-owned land. This has had a positive impact in terms of preventing large-scale releases and in raising public awareness locally; I will encourage other local authorities to follow this approach. I will also raise the issue with charitable organisations to ensure that they consider the wider impacts of releasing balloons or sky lanterns at their events.

The report did find that fire risk associated with the use of sky lanterns, mainly to agricultural crops, buildings and moorland is significant. The three Fire and Rescue Authorities (FRAs) have a statutory duty to promote fire safety in their areas. The FRAs discourage use of sky lanterns and the Minister for Local Government and Government Business supports their stance. The FRAs Community Risk Reduction Committee also set the strategic direction on community safety, education and engagement and support the Chief Fire Officers Association’s UK wide approaches to: 

  • work with their local trading standards offices to control the use and design of sky lanterns;  
  • work with their local police authorities to discourage the approval of events licences for events planning to release sky lanterns;  
  • work with local events licensers to discourage the use of these lanterns; and  
  • scope out the possibility of litigation with interested parties such as the local police and Civil Aviation Authority.

The Welsh Government notes that the research report highlights risks to aviation as one of the most significant issues posed by sky lanterns and helium balloons.  Aviation safety is non-devolved and action to address these risks is a matter for the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority. The research report also highlights the issue of red sky lanterns causing false alarms to the Coast Guard and, although matters relating to the Coast Guard are non-devolved, my officials have contacted the Civil Contingencies Manager in the Welsh Coast Guard to ensure they are aware of the report.  

The Welsh Government acknowledges that provision of appropriate consumer information has an important role to play in enabling members of the public to make informed choices about whether to release sky lanterns and helium balloons.  Although there is specific information that should be communicated in relation to release of these objects near airfields, airports and the coast, we believe that it would make sense for this to be considered as part of comprehensive consumer information on these products. Although not a devolved issue, we support the UK Government in taking forward work to ensure that manufacturers place clear warnings on packaging. We will be closely monitoring the progress of the UK Government in working with retailers, manufacturers and others to improve public awareness of how to use these products responsibly.