Winter sun over Ullock Pike copyright Michael Turner

'Chinese' sky lanterns

Recently 'Chinese' lanterns or sky lanterns have become popular at birthdays, weddings and other celebrations. Although we cannot state that you should not use them, they do pose risks. Some issues are:


Not biodegradable

The paper can degrade in about six to eight weeks. But the wire in them can last nine months and is of a fine gauge with sharp ends. There are some without wire that use cane, wool or string – but these still take time to degrade and could cause issues for livestock and littering.

Fire risk

There is evidence that their use has caused moorland or forest fires at certain times of year when vegetation and weather conditions have made sites vulnerable to fire.

Danger to livestock

There have been examples of cattle and sheep eating the lanterns and wire. This has caused injury to stomachs and mouths. There are recorded cases in the UK of death from internal injury.

Contaminates hay and silage

Farmers cutting grass for stock feed or bedding can gather wire and other lantern parts in the grass, which in turn is fed or used as bedding for stock.


Even though some parts are biodegradable they do remain on view either on the ground, in trees and hedges, which is an eyesore.

Can be confused with distress flares

The UK Coastguard has been called out on false alarms when lanterns have been confused with distress flares.


All the suppliers have disclaimer that they have no responsibility for accidents or injury caused and that releasers of lanterns could be liable.

Typical safety advice issued with lanterns:

Safety Instruction - Do's

  • Ensure that all those involved in lighting and launching the sky lantern are over 18 years old.
  • Choose a wide open space.
  • Have water, sand or a fire extinguisher to hand.
  • Inspect the sky lantern for tears or any damage before use.
  • Ensure there are no obstacles close to the launch site (especially downwind or above).
  • Stand upwind of the sky lantern and have all bystanders do likewise.
  • Inform the coastguard if launching in a coastal location.

Safety Instruction -  Do Not's

  • Launch near buildings, trees, overhead cables or pylons.
  • Launch in rain or in other than light wind (under 7 mph).
  • Launch near sites where there may be inflammable liquids or gases.
  • Launch a torn or otherwise damaged or broken sky lantern.
  • Launch within 5 miles of an airport.
  • Launch during prolonged dry weather where crops, grass or trees might catch fire.
  • Launch where a flying sky lantern could be mistaken for a distress signal.
  • Allow children to light, launch or play with the sky lantern.

These safety instructions are provided for guidance and are not exclusive. It is entirely the responsibility of the persons lighting and launching a sky lantern to take due care.