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NFU appeals to public and party venues over Chinese lanterns


The NFU is asking party-goers and party organisers to think about the potentially lethal implications for livestock – or the damage running into thousands of pounds if crops are burned – before marking an event with Chinese lanterns. It follows a sharp rise in incidents reported by farmers and a raft of warnings issued by fire services across the country.

The latest incident to make the headlines happened last weekend, when a severe crop fire in a barley field near Woodstock needed more than 25 firefighters to tackle the blaze.  This prompted the incident commander John Nixon to warn about the potential damage the lanterns can cause. Talking to the BBC he said: We have had a particularly dry summer and it does not take much to set large areas of countryside alight.

West Sussex Fire Service has also issued a similar warning in the past week, following call-outs to blazes involving lanterns. Roger Wood, Community, Fire and Road Safety manager, said: There is growing concern over cases where the embers from the fuel cell can continue to glow for several minutes after the flames have gone out and then fall from the lantern as it flies. Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue Service are concerned too, and have issued a warning and advised against using the lanterns.

It is not just the fire risks that concern farmers. It is the risk of injury to grazing animals from the wire and bamboo material used in the lanterns. If ingested by cattle, wire components can have serious effects. The wire could puncture the stomach lining and cause extreme discomfort, proving fatal in some cases. A Cheshire farmer is known to have lost one of his prize Red Poll cows last December, after lantern wire pierced the cows windpipe. Even if problems are not immediately apparent, there is an additional risk when grass is cut for winter feed and the wire is chopped up in hay or silage.

Commenting on the latest incidents, NFU President Peter Kendall said: We don’t want to be killjoys at all, but – with the very dry summer and the reports were getting of injuries to cattle – we would urge party-goers and venues to resist the temptation to release lanterns into the countryside.

The NFU is flagging up more than just the risk of injury to livestock or crop fires. There is also the risk of party-goers potential liability for damage caused by lanterns. NFU rural surveyor Louise Staples said: A fire in a field of barley could cost a farmer thousands of pounds. We would urge the public, venues and indeed manufacturers to think about the liabilities they could incur if the lanterns they sell or release end up causing damage.

Chinese lanterns are generally made of fire-retardant paper stretched over a wire or bamboo frame. They contain a fuel cell attached to a thin, metal wire. When lit, they float upwards to considerable heights, and can remain airborne for many minutes, travelling up to 15 miles or more from where they were released.

In August 2009 Australias Federal Government placed an 18-month ban on the supply or sale of lanterns on the grounds of the potential fire risk they posed. Malta also banned their use in December 2009, on safety grounds. The lanterns are banned in parts of Germany.

The NFU originally called for a voluntary ban by manufacturers on lanterns that used wire in their frames. But having reviewed the evidence of their impact and the risks they pose, the NFU Council (the organisations governing body) resolved to call for an outright ban on their use when it met in June.

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