Ask an Expert: balloons

Linda asked the question - Is releasing balloons at a public event harmful to birds?

Balloon releases end up with a significant amount of potentially harmful waste littering the land and marine environments. Unless the balloons have string or streamers attached, which can entangle all wildlife, most land birds shouldn't be affected by them, terrestrial animals and livestock may encounter problems though if they consume the balloons. However, balloons often drift out to see and some seabirds and marine creatures can pay the ultimate price.

When balloons end up in the sea, the way they float near the surface can tempt creatures like turtles, whales, dolphins and seabirds like albatross into eating them. The balloons we release don't all stay local, some travel huge distances before landing and the get moved by the tides as well. We are lucky enough to get a a very impressive species of turtle off the UK coasts, the leatherback. This may come as a surprise to many but they are regularly spotted in the Irish sea and off Devon and Cornwall. This huge turtle feeds mostly on jellyfish so a floundering balloon or plastic bag can look just like their favourite food. Consuming this floating rubbish has harmful effects including blocking their digestive tract leading to starvation, there have been a number that have died as a result of ingesting balloons and other plastic waste.

In many places balloon releases have been banned due to these threats to the environment and wildlife. Today saw the lauch of the first ever RSPB virtual balloon race, a safe alternative to letting them go in real life, to find out more about this harmless alternative, have a look at the website here. If you are planning a public event and want a fun activity that's safe for nature, please don't choose a balloon release, maybe a mass kite flying event or a duck race (collect the ducks at the end!).


Warden Intern at Otmoor.