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Natural Resources Wales warn of ‘horrific’ damage caused by balloon releases

27 Dec 2023 3 minute read
Balloon Release. Image: Jennicatpink

Natural Resources Wales has warned of the dangers of balloon releases which cause ‘horrific’ damage to cattle, bird and marine life – with many animals starving to death after mistaking them for food.

In a recent blog post, Jenny Hoyle, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) Environment Officer, has warned of the unintended consequences of the releases, which are intended as heartfelt gestures for lost loved-ones.

Balloons are often mistaken for food by wildlife and cattle and once swallowed can block the gut, slowly starving them to death. Birds are also liable to becoming tangled up in balloon ribbon and string which can restrict their movement and ability to feed.

Horrifying deaths

Ms Hoyle asks us to “picture a young seal pup on our coast found dying with its flippers bound together by plastic balloon string. Imagine a diseased hen harrier on our uplands having sadly become entangled.”

“Are these the potentially distressing sights we wish to cause and then remember our loved ones by?”

Over the past year, NRW has received several reports of balloon releases taking place on or near some of Wales’ Special Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI). These are areas that provide habitats to some of Wales’ rarest and most threatened wildlife.

Protected sites such as the Ruabon, Llantysilio Mountain and Minera SSSI near Llangollen are home to vulnerable and protected species such as the iconic black grouse and curlew. Fallen balloons can harm these species and the livestock which are used to maintain the moorland habitats. Endangering these protected species can potentially lead to prosecution under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).

Ms Hoyle added: “The incidents caused by balloon releases only add to the current troubles facing nature. The scale and rate of biodiversity loss across the nation is accelerating, impacting on species who depend upon our natural resources and the very foundation of our existence.

“When we threaten biodiversity, we are threatening our food supply, our health, our jobs, our economy and our sense of place.

“This Christmas, let us celebrate responsibly, mindful of the impact our actions can have on the delicate balance of nature.”

‘Stop, reflect and think’

Gene Simmons from North Wales Seal Rescue Organisation shares the same position as NRW.

Following a case of a seal that died after becoming entangled in balloon string, he said: “There are much better ways in my opinion, and more environmentally-friendly ways, to celebrate the life of your loved ones.

“And we don’t think that they’re bad people, we don’t even think that they’re silly people.

“We just ask that they just stop, reflect and think about much better ways to celebrate those lives and celebrate the legacy of the loved ones that they’ve lost.”

Currently, half of all local authorities in Wales have banned balloon releases, but there have been persistent calls from the RSPCA, campaigners and the public alike for an outright ban, such as with sky lanterns.

A now-closed Senedd petition is currently under the consideration of the petitions committee.

Sky, or Chinese, lanterns also pose a significant threat to wildlife, and their release was banned by all local authorities in Wales back in 2018.

Like balloon releases, they also litter the countryside and pose a hazard to wildlife, but also pose a real risk of serious fire damage, especially during dry summer months.

For more information on the dangers of balloon releases, Keep Wales Tidy has released a document called Letter from the Air, which you can read here.


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6 months ago

This pollution is really awful, people I think don’t think past the “awwwwwww, cute” or in memory of someone passed away, yet the long lasting damage is devastating. Rather than a mass balloon release in memory for example, donate that cost to charity. Birthday party? Find a green alternative (non balloon of course but its only fleeting). Really want to see people tackle the ones that think this is cool, I know people based their business around this but think of another line. Everywhere I walk now it is littered with plastic. You may not go past the edge of… Read more »

Steve Woods
Steve Woods
6 months ago

Most people would not drop their litter in the streets.

Balloon releases are nothing more than aerial littering.

6 months ago

I’m very surprised that balloon releases still happen? Why’s it not outlawed? There are so many better ways of commemorating loved ones including giving money to charity. I assume people who regularly litter simply don’t see any issue with it and that’s why it continues. Needs criminalising.

Barbara H.
Barbara H.
6 months ago

Everytime I see balloons released, I feek sick. At what point will the human race realise this planet is fragile? If we do not have the biodiversity in insects and animal species, this planet will die.

Maybe not in our generation, but I do wonder what the planet will be like in my great-grandchildren’s future. What about their great-grandchildren?

The human race disgusts me with it’s throw away society and it’s dependence on plastic. We are making miniscule changes when we now need to make massive changes.

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