Shetland Islands Council, Scottish Natural Heritage and Shetland Amenity Trust are calling for a halt to the mass release of balloons throughout Shetland.
Although the practice is now rare, some events still do involve release of balloons which the three bodies claim present extreme dangers to wildlife and fall foul of council litter prevention powers.
Environmental health service manager Maggie Dunne said: “Highlighting the impact that mass balloon releases have on wildlife, and the contribution that they make to increasing marine litter, has been successful in reducing the number of such events which happen in Shetland.
“Not all events need a licence but we have found that simply giving advice to organisers planning a balloon release can help them to think of alternative ways of promoting their issue or event without impacting negatively on the environment.”
She said released balloons can travel many hundreds of miles before landing on land or in the sea. In both cases, the spent balloon presents hazards to livestock, birds or marine wildlife. Cases have recently been reported of turtles, whales, dolphins and fulmars becoming victims of ingested deflated balloons which has led to asphyxiation or starvation.
Karen Hall, of Scottish Natural Heritage, added: “Marine wildlife and seabirds are most at risk as pieces of balloon can be easily mistaken for food. During our recent grey seal pupping survey we noticed numerous discarded balloons on beaches around Shetland. In one case, several semi-inflated balloons were tangled in the kelp less than a metre away from a young grey seal pup. If you value Shetland’s natural environment, don’t let go of your balloons.”
There are two main types of balloon, foil and latex, with the latex ones described as “bio-degradable”. The organisations say this is misleading as latex balloons can sometimes take longer than six months to break down while foil will take years, if at all.
With attention soon to turn to Da Voar Redd Up, amenity trust environment project officer Mick Clifton said: “Statistically, there are in the region of seven balloons per kilometre of coastline cleaned by Redd Up volunteers. That is an estimated 10,000 spent balloons around the coastline of Shetland and does not take into account balloons drifting in the sea. Each one is a potential death trap to marine and land based wildlife.”
Organisers of events throughout Shetland are urged not to release balloons but to undertake other forms of celebration, commemoration or remembrance to mark their special event.