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    Up, up and away?

    Last updated: 5 December 2006.

    This is the text of a leaflet about balloon releases produced several years ago by the Marine Conservation Society, RSPCA, Tidy Britain Group, and the National Farmers Union, and reprinted here with kind permission.

    Thousands of balloons released into the sky can make an impressive sight. But what goes up must come down. The impact of balloons on animals and the environment can be grave - even fatal. Balloon releases often take place at charitable events and are being considered for millennium celebrations, but the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), RSPCA, National Farmers Union (NFU) and Tidy Britain Group (TBG) are calling on all organisations to support a voluntary ban on them and to celebrate events in more environment and animal-friendly ways.

    Threat to the environment

    Balloon releases cause litter which can harm wild, farm and domestic animals. An estimated 90-95 per cent of balloons rise to an altitude of three kilometres and burst into small fragments. Others may float many miles before descending to the ground or sea semi-inflated. The largest-ever balloon release was 1.4 million balloons - of those, 140,000 could have fallen to the land and sea.

    Research states that latex balloons degrade faster than oak leaves and this is often used in defence of mass balloon releases. This is no recommendation however as an oak leaf can take six months to break down. Most of the balloons used in releases are made of degradable latex but some have foil linings which take much longer to degrade.

    Even small-scale releases and balloon races may have a serious effect on the environment and animals - the balloons are often not adequately inflated and the attached strings or ribbons may entangle animals. Weighted race tags increase the likelihood of balloons landing in the countryside or at sea.

    Threat to wildlife

    Many marine species found in the North East Atlantic waters off the UK - dolphins, whales, turtles, fish and seabirds - have been found with balloons in their stomachs. They probably mistook them for natural prey such as jellyfish and squid.

    Although it is difficult to prove that death results directly from ingestion of a balloon, their presence in animals' stomachs indicates either that they are not easily digested and/or that death occurs shortly after ingestion. This can be caused by blockage of the digestive and/or respiratory tracts, and is likely to be slow and painful.

    Balloon releases in the UK

    Following the findings of a 1989 conference in Canada on plastic and other debris found at sea, public concern has led to cancellations of mass releases in Canada and North America. The MCS, the RSPCA, NFU and the TBG are concerned that this message has not reached UK event organisers. The MCS/Reader's Digest annual Beachwatch survey records hundreds of balloons found on UK beaches, averaging more than three balloons per kilometre of beach surveyed.

    No cause for celebration

    Given the harm balloons cause wildlife and domestic animals, and the aesthetic damage to the environment, the MCS, RSPCA, NFU and TBG believe there should be no balloon releases in the UK. It is also questionable whether balloon releases are legal. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, it is an offence to drop 'or otherwise deposit' litter in a public place. It would be fortunate if celebration of and support for one good cause were to be responsible for the blight of another.

    What you can do

    Marine Conservation Society
    9 Gloucester Road
    HR9 5BU
    Tel: 01989 566017

    RSPCA Wildlife Department
    West Sussex
    RHI2 IHG
    Tel: 01403 264181

    Tidy Britain Group
    Communications Department
    The Pier
    WN3 4EX
    Tel: 01942 924620

    National Farmers Union
    164 Shaftsbury Avenue
    Agriculture House
    WC2H 8HL
    Tel: 0207 3317200

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