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Celebrate safely this summer for animals' sake

Last modified: 25 May 2012

Hunting barn owl

Barn owls are one of the many birds that have been injured by sky lanterns

While celebrating this summer's Jubilee and Olympics, the public should think twice before setting off fireworks, releasing balloons and lighting sky lanterns to ensure pets, wildlife and livestock aren't frightened or even killed.

The call for restraint comes from a group of organisations concerned with animal welfare and wildlife conservation. The RSPB, RSPCA and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), along with the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and the Soil Association, say that supposedly innocent celebrations could cause more harm to animals at this time of year as it is in the middle of the breeding season.

The group is hoping to highlight the problems fireworks, balloons and sky lanterns, also known as Chinese lanterns, can cause and ask people to think about alternative ways to have fun this summer for the safety of animals.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “As we gear up to celebrate the Jubilee and welcome the Olympics this summer, we need to remember that it’s a crucial time for wild birds and other animals that are right in the middle of the breeding season. Normally, fireworks displays happen in November, where they pose less of a threat to wildlife, but celebrations held this June and July could prove to be a lot more dangerous.

“Animals may abandon their young if they become unsettled by the loud noises or smoke close to where they’re sheltering, and if live fireworks come into contact with birds and other wildlife they can cause severe burns and injuries resulting in death. Similarly, sky lanterns and balloons can have a detrimental effect on wildlife that ingest the remains or get tangled up in the debris, causing a slow, suffering death through starvation.

“We definitely don’t want anyone to stop having fun this summer, but we want to remind people that there are other, more wildlife-friendly ways to celebrate. Why not make and wave a homemade flag, fly a kite or organise a plastic duck race with your family instead?”

David Bowles, director of communications for the RSPCA, commented: "Fireworks, balloons and lanterns may seem like innocent ways to celebrate the Jubilee, but if used carelessly they can terrify, injure and kill all animals - wildlife, livestock and pets.

"I think most people who saw the kind of injuries or fatalities we have would think twice. Cattle have died after bits of Chinese lanterns have fallen into their feed, baby birds abandoned after their parents are spooked by a fireworks explosion and scraps of balloons landing in a field could be eaten by any animal from a horse to a pet dog with fatal consequences.

"There are so many ways that people can have fun next weekend which will not cause problems for animals, and sometimes the extra thought and care can end up making the event even more special."

The Marine Conservation Society’s pollution campaigns officer, Emma Snowden, explains why the charity is lobbying for balloon and sky lantern releases to be classified as acts of littering:  “Balloons are not classed as litter under the Environment Protection Act as they are let go rather than dropped. Although some balloons are biodegradable, they may persist in the marine environment for up to four years.”

NFU Deputy President, Meurig Raymond added: “We know they can be spectacular, but lanterns can harm and even kill farm animals. They can also cause fires to crops, grassland on moors and bales of hay and straw.

“We hope everyone enjoys the Queen’s jubilee celebrations, but we are urging people not to set Chinese lanterns off.”

Anyone worried about the location of a fireworks display and the effect it may have on wildlife should contact the organiser to raise their concerns. If you see animals in distress, call the RSPCA’s emergency line on 0300 1234 999.