A LOCAL authority responsible for one of Britain’s most rural areas looks set to launch an intensive campaign to educate people about the dangers of releasing sky lanterns and helium balloons.

North Yorkshire County Council is also set to lobby MPs and one of its former members – Education Secretary Gavin Williamson – to ensure every child is taught about the potentially deadly flying objects after concluding localised bans would have limited effects.

An inquiry of the authority’s partnerships scrutiny committee heard how action was urgently needed as farmers were regularly seeing their animals suffer appalling deaths after ingesting the balloons or wires from the lanterns.

Esk Valley councillor and farmer Clive Pearson said at least one helium balloon released from the Durham and Teesside area landed on his farm every week. He said: “We have to watch the stock, which do go and eat them.”

The meeting heard many helium balloons released in the region were ending up in the sea.

A report to the meeting noted that in 2019, a collaborative study by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies found balloons were the highest-risk plastic debris item for seabirds - 32 times more likely to kill than ingesting hard plastics. Their researchers looked at the cause of death of 1,733 seabirds from 51 species and found that one in three of the birds had ingested marine debris.

The meeting was told bans had been introduced across 17 counties and at many councils, such as those in West Yorkshire and East Riding, but bans were almost impossible to enforce.

However, officers said while the authority could go to the effort and expense of adding a ban to new leases on its array of properties, there was little it could do about existing leases or on other land, other than encourage people not to release the lanterns or balloons.

Councillors agreed an education campaign would be the best course to tackle the flying objects being released, and that it should start in schools as children “tended to be more responsible than adults” and were more environmentally aware.

The Northern Farmer: Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for EducationGavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education

Councillor Annabel Wilkinson said: “I can’t imagine anybody wanting to let off either the lanterns or the balloons if they actually knew these animals were suffering so much.”

Nevertheless, councillors agreed to recommend the authority bans the release of sky lanterns and helium balloons on any of the hundreds of properties and parcels of land which it owns or lease or has any interest in or control over. It also moved to recommend a drive to encourage businesses, communities, landowners, schools, residential homes and individuals to switch to alternative ways of celebrating and commemorating events.

The council will also be recommended to press all parish and town councils within North Yorkshire to pass a similar motion and work with the county’s MPs to ensure a total ban on releasing sky lanterns and helium balloons is considered by Parliament.