I’ve been asked a few times what I think about balloon releases. Not that long ago, I would have commented on how graceful they were and how lovely it is to watch balloons dance through the sky, carried by the breeze, up, up and away.
Whether it’s a single balloon or an organised race, they can bring a cathartic pleasure and sense of wonder. Would my balloon make it to a foreign land, connecting with a stranger who would be as excited as me that it had travelled so far? Whatever the occasion, they always triggered some sense of satisfaction or contentment. And even as a young girl, upset when a balloon slipped out of my hand, my mother would tell me that my dad would look after it up in Heaven. So in some ways, a floating balloon lost to the breeze also became a comfort.
But isn’t it funny how attitudes can change. My romantic appreciation of balloon releases has since fallen from grace replaced by my growing awareness of what can happen at the end of the journey, as those floating balloons that we admire for a few moments eventually pop or deflate and drop back down as litter.
And I have never forgotten the moment that triggered my conscience, when I read a letter in the Bury Free Press complaining about the environmental consequences of a balloon release at a local school. The school had justified its use of biodegradable balloons, so all was okay – or so I thought. That was almost 10 years ago.
These days, I realise that even biodegradable balloons can take up to four years to break down and therefore still present a hazard to livestock, wildlife and marine life. With deflated balloons or fragments being easily mistaken as food, by species on land and in our waterways, leading to fatal consequences, it is no coincidence that the RSPCA, RSPB and Marine Conservation Society along with other environmental organisations and farmers are still urging event organisers to bring an end to balloon releases.
The Marine Conservation Society is taking a leading role with its Don’t Let Go campaign, working with charities, local authorities and retail organisations to share awareness of its research and asking staff and supporters to choose alternatives to balloon releases or even sky lanterns – yet another hazard – when organising events. There is a growing list of councils that have banned them on their premises as well as well-known retail chains that no longer support such activities. Even the Guinness Book of Records has stopped recording balloon release attempts due to their impact on wildlife.
Like many other campaigners that I observe, the Marine Conservation Society, doesn’t want to spoil people’s fun and doesn’t have anything against the controlled use of balloons, but it has a vital and valuable role to play in protecting the species and environment for which it fights. And with the wedding and summer fayre season on the horizon, if you’re planning a balloon release as part of your celebrations, I’d encourage you to read its website first.
To find out more about the impact of Balloon Releases and the Don’t Let Go campaign, visit www.mcsuk.org where lots of advice is available as well as alternative ideas for different types of occasions.