Scotland came a step closer to a ban on helium balloons and sky lanterns across the country when North Lanarkshire became the 24th local authority to ban both.

Three-quarters of Scottish councils have now banned both of these items, whose impacts when they eventually fall to the ground, can be damaging to wildlife, farm animals and the environment.

North Lanarkshire Council’s Environment and Climate Change Committee voted on May 1 on proposals “to prohibit the release of sky lanterns and helium balloons from all council land and premises and from council licensed events”.

Animal welfare groups, including Animal Concern, have been campaigning for restrictions on the release of lanterns and balloons for over eight years. 

A spokesperson from the charity, Graeme Corbett, said: “We are obviously delighted that North Lanarkshire has moved to safeguard animal welfare by passing restrictions on the release of sky lanterns and helium balloons. We are particularly pleased that councillors of all parties were quick to give their support, and we’re grateful for it. They’ve shown that we can be a nation of animal lovers and that this issue cuts through party lines”.

“This is about raising awareness of the risks and dangers rather than punishing people. We take the view that people release lanterns and balloons without thinking through what happens next when what is no doubt an attractive spectacle, disappears over the horizon. What goes up must come down and these are both a real hazard when they do”.

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“Slowly but surely," he said, "we are approaching 32 out of 32 local authorities in Scotland in support of Animal Concern’s campaign, just as Wales has hit wall-to-wall local authority coverage.”

Vice Convenor of the Environment and Climate Change Committee Councillor James McPhilemy (Scottish Labour, Cumbernauld South) said: “We are pleased to support Animal Concern’s campaign. We share their view that releasing sky lanterns and helium balloons is a risk not worth taking to protect wildlife, household pets, and farmed animals.

“As councillors, we have a duty to do what we can to safeguard animal welfare insofar as we can and to tackle avoidable fire hazards. These measures go some way to achieving that.”

A diverse range of organisations including the Fire and Rescue Service, the National Farmers Union, Keep Scotland Beautiful, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Marine Conservation Society, and MPs and MSPs of all political parties, have joined animal welfare groups in campaigning for the ban.

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Mr Corbett urged the Scottish Government to follow up with a national ban. He said:  “More and more local authorities are using the powers they have to do what they can. We’re approaching the point where Holyrood and Westminster must recognise their responsibility. Local governments like North Lanarkshire across the UK have shown leadership. It’s time parliamentarians did the same.

"This should be a no-brainer for every party’s manifesto with a General Election just months away."

The dangers associated with sky lanterns and helium balloons are ingestion and, in the case of lanterns, fire hazard. Animals, for instance, sometimes attempt to eat grounded lanterns or helium balloons. This carries the risk of becoming lodged in the oesophagus death by asphyxiation. In March this year, a ewe was found dead after ingesting a balloon in Yorkshire.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We understand the concerns raised in relation to the use of fire lanterns and balloon releases and the impact they can have on our wildlife, livestock and the environment.

“Whilst there are no current plans for a nationwide ban on helium balloons and sky lanterns, we are working closely with partners to focus on the prevention of all sources of litter and welcome the approach being taken by a number of local authorities in Scotland who are taking action to ban balloon releases and sky lanterns on their land.”