Saturday, 5 November 2011

Remember, Remember

I don't know how many countries celebrate the failure of a terrorist attack 400 years after it was meant to have happened, but being partial to fireworks I'm quite please the U.K. does. Fireworks night (aka Guy Fawkes night, Bonfire night and 5th November) has lost a lot of its original themes of anti-Catholicism, class confrontations and nationalism. Nowadays it's all about the brightness and being so close to other festivals of lights, such as Diwali, it's common for  fireworks to start mid October and continue until mid November.

Over the last five years, as well as the traditional fireworks, new lights have appeared on the horizon, those of Chinese lanterns. You've almost certainly seen them in the nights sky, points of orange light floating across the skyline. What they actually are is paper/plastic boxes with a tiny tea light heating the air inside the box and lifting it up into the sky. These little lights are really beautiful and it's lovely to see them slowly floating across the sky, sometimes up to 30 miles. They're pretty cheap too at about £2 each.

But (there always seems to be a but with good things) don't let the pretty lights dazzle you into missing the large risks and dangers associated with the lanterns. Last year, while watching lanterns at a family fireworks party, a three year old boy was seriously injured when part of a melted lantern fell onto his face.  Everyone knows the dangers of fireworks but the dangers of these new lanterns are less well know.

As well as possible injuries there are also risks to the environment, farm animals and emergency services. There have been several wild fires attributed to the lanterns over the last few years and also fires on farm, hay barns and injury to livestock. Many of the lanterns are now said to be biodegradable, but people seem sceptical about this and I always wonder how long they take to degrade, even if they do so. Wild fires will damage natural habitats and impact upon unsuspecting animals while the hot wire from fallen lanterns lies in wait for small unsuspecting paws.

There are less obvious problems for the emergency services with these lanterns. Between 1st October 2009 and 30th September 2010 there were 128 false alerts to the Maratime and Coastguard Agency attributed to Chinese lanterns. People see the lanterns out at sea and mistaken for parachute signal flares and so the emergency services are called. On 26 occasions lifeboats were launched and on two occasion helicopters mobilised. 

There are calls for a ban on Chinese lanterns or at least limiting them to certain times of year. I'm sure there are negative environmental impacts of fireworks too, even if its just the hundreds of cardboard and plastic shells that fall to the ground once they've been lit.

Whatever you're doing this weekend, remember to wrap up warm and keep safe. Also, if you're having a bonfire check it for hedgehogs before you lights it! They love the big piles of leaves and sticks as a warm place to hibernate.