Saturday, 1 August 2009

Scotland's dazzling hidden coral reefs uncovered

Waterworld: extraordinary examples of the iridescent soft coral and marine life thriving at great depth off Scotland’s coastline.
Published Date: 02 August 2009
By Jeremy Watson
BRILLIANT pinks, purples, yellows and reds shine out from the dark. Shoals of brightly coloured fish dart in and out of reefs rich with sea anemones. sea urchins and sponges.
Coral reefs and the abundant life they support are usually associated with the fertile, shallow and warm waters of the southern hemisphere.But these pictures were taken around a mile down in the deep Rockall Trough in the Atlantic Ocean west of Scotland by a team of marine scientists using specialist camera equipment.The team, from the government's Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the Edinburgh-based British Geological Survey and the University of Plymouth, were the first to map and photograph five previously undiscovered coral reefs at depths of up to 1,500 metres.They found dense thickets of metre-high sea fan corals of different hues that had probably taken centuries to form. As well as the delicate and ornate sea fans, the team also discovered reefs formed by hard corals, similar to those that built Australia's Great Barrier Reef.In addition to the abundant corals, a wide range of animals, including sea urchins, basket stars, orange feather stars, yellow sponges and fish were seen living on the reefs. They were in pristine condition as they were sited on steep rocky outcrops away from traditional fishing areas. The team will now submit its findings to UK ministers so the reefs can be considered for special protection under European law.The month-long expedition to the Rockall Trough first visited the flanks of the Anton Dohrn Seamount, an extinct underwater volcano rising more than 2,100m from the seabed, reaching its summit at a depth of 600m. The research vessel commissioned by JNCC then headed further out to the steep, submerged cliffs and pinnacles of the East Rockall Bank, near the tiny uninhabited British islet of Rockall, almost 200 miles west of the Outer Hebrides.The reefs were filmed using high-tech camera equipment lowered on a cable a distance greater than the height of Ben Nevis, with the researchers manning video screens aboard the survey vessel around the clock.Neil Golding, the JNCC's offshore survey programme manager, said: "At the beginning when we were planning the survey, we really hoped that we would find evidence of these habitats and I'm delighted that we discovered such pristine examples."We have filmed down to 1,000m before but this was a lot deeper. Cameras have never been down on the flanks of Anton Dohrn before and there were some pretty severe slopes. "We were really surprised by what we found, because you don't really expect coral reefs at 1,500m. You hope to find habitats like that but most of the time you never do. "It was really exciting and we were on the edge of our seats most of time at what we were seeing."The reefs were found on bare rocky outcrops on the sides of the seamount and the slopes of East Rockall Bank where the coral has been undisturbed to feed on plankton and other nutrients in the ocean currents.Dr Kerry Howell, of Plymouth University's Marine Institute, said: "It is wonderful to drop a camera down and see this. We were working deeper than we have ever worked before and saw some things we hadn't seen previously. We have seen individual sea fans before but never in these thickets. "To find what we did in such pristine condition was amazing. Other reefs we have filmed have been damaged. But these really were untouched and full of life, which is probably due to the depth and a terrain that is no good for fishing." Howell said the big sea fans were likely to be hundreds of years old. "To get to that size they must be very old as they are very slow growing."Mission chief scientist Ken Hitchen, from the British Geological Survey, said "spectacular" coral reefs had been found. "What we were looking for was pristine reefs that can be preserved. In shallower areas the reefs have been smashed by trawling and we want to protect all these beautiful areas that we found out there."The team completed the survey despite having to return to Stornoway twice to repair camera malfunctions and having to run for cover to St Kilda in advance of a violent Atlantic storm heading in their direction. Scientific analysis of thousands of images and video film will now be undertaken over the next six months before evidence of the quality of the reefs is submitted to the government.

The folly of 'magical solutions' for targeting carbon emissions

Setting unattainable emissions targets such as in the UK is not a policy — it's an act of wishful thinking, argues one political scientist. From Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Fifty years ago, political scientist Harold Lasswell explained that some policies are all about symbolism, with little or no impact on real-world outcomes. He called such actions "magical solutions," explaining that "political symbolization has its catharsis functions." Climate policy is going through exactly such a phase, in which a focus on magical solutions leaves little room for the practical.
Evidence for this claim can be found in the global reaction to the commitment made by the Japanese government last month to reduce emissions by 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The announcement was met with derision. For instance, Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, expressed shock at Japan's lack of ambition, stating, "I think for the first time in two-and-a-half years in this job, I don't know what to say." Sir David King, Britain's former chief scientist and now director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at Oxford University, singled out Japan as a country that was blocking progress toward an international deal on climate change.
Explaining what would constitute an acceptable target, de Boer explained that "the minus 25 to 40 range has become a sort of beacon" — referring to emissions reduction figures presented in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which were highlighted in subsequent international negotiations at Bali. Perhaps this is also the magnitude of target that King had in mind when disparaging the Japanese proposal. After all, the British government has enacted a law consistent with this range, requiring emissions reductions of 34 percent below 1990 levels by 2022, which would be upped to 42 percent if the world reaches a global climate agreement in Copenhagen in December.
What is missing from the debate over targets and timetables is any conception of the realism of such proposals. If a proposal is not realistic, it is not really a policy proposal but an exercise in symbolism, a "magical solution."
Symbolism is of course an essential part of politics, but when it becomes detached from reality — or even worse, used to exclude consideration of realistic proposals — the inevitable outcome is that policies will likely fail to achieve the promised ends. This outcome is highly problematic for those who actually care about the substance of climate policy proposals.
The U.K. targets are a perfect example of what happens when symbols become disconnected from reality. To achieve a 34 percent reduction from 1990 emissions by 2022 while maintaining modest economic growth would require that the U.K. decarbonize its economy to the level of France by about 2016. In more concrete terms, Britain would have to achieve the equivalent of deploying about 30 new nuclear power plants in the next six years, just to get part way to its target. One does not need a degree in nuclear physics to conclude that is just not going to happen.
Colin Challen, Member of Parliament (Labour) and chairman of its All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, has concluded that the U.K. targets are "well beyond our current political capacity to deliver." Perhaps there is some consolation in the fact that the U.K. targets are symbolically strong.
The Japanese targets are not that much different from those in the U.K., requiring a rate of decarbonization of the Japanese economy by 2020 that is only one percent per year less than that implied by the U.K. target. To meet its 2020 target, Japan expects to do the following: construct nine new nuclear power plant plants and improve utilized capacity to 80 percent (from 60 percent); build about 34 new wind-power plants producing around 5 million kilowatts; install solar panels on 2.9 million homes (an increase of 2,000 percent over current levels); increase the share of newly built houses satisfying stringent insulation standards from 40 percent today to 80 percent; and increase sales of next-generation vehicles from 4 percent (2005) to 50 percent (2020).
Meeting these goals will be enormously difficult, especially because Japan has for decades been at the forefront of improving energy efficiency and has already plucked much "low hanging fruit." Consequently, if Japan's proposals are to be criticized, perhaps it should be because they are too ambitious rather than too weak. But when policy debate detaches from reality, up can become down in a hurry.
Political debate over climate policy is such that the facts on the ground often make little difference. Another good example of this dynamic can be found in New York Times columnist Tom Friedman's views on the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill now being considered by the US Senate. Friedman recently evaluated the bill as it emerged from the House of Representatives as follows: "There is much in the House cap-and-trade energy bill that just passed that I absolutely hate. It is too weak in key areas and way too complicated in others. A simple, straightforward carbon tax would have made much more sense than this Rube Goldberg contraption. It is pathetic that we couldn't do better. It is appalling that so much had to be given away to polluters. It stinks. It's a mess. I detest it."
He then concludes, "Now let's get it passed in the Senate and make it law."
How can Friedman come to such a conclusion based on his judgment that the legislation is a "mess"? Symbolism. Friedman explains, "Rejecting this bill would have been read in the world as America voting against the reality and urgency of climate change and would have undermined clean energy initiatives everywhere." Friedman's views about how the bill would be "read" help to explain why it is that climate policy has become about demonstrating one's strong feelings about the reality and urgency of climate change and not so much about implementing policies that can actually work. A few minutes spent exploring the climate corner of the blogosphere is enough to confirm this claim.
The good news, I suppose, is that the policy process provides plenty of good examples of situations where symbolism and reality get out of kilter with one another, only to be reconciled through the messy political process. One example is the congressional response to budget deficits in the 1980s. At the time it was widely recognized that the growing budget deficits were a problem that had to be dealt with. So Congress passed legislation (Gramm-Rudman-Hollings) which mandated that projected budgets had to be balanced. And what happened? Projected budgets were balanced using rosy scenarios and accounting tricks, and the actual budget was nowhere close to being in balance. For a while the impression was given that something was being done. But when the numbers came in, this particular "magical solution" was judged a failure.
Despite the Byzantine complexity of the process, the mathematics of budgeting are not difficult. To be in balance the money coming in must equal the money going out, and these are controlled via taxes and spending. Budgets did not reach balance until Congress revisited its balanced budget legislation to focus on reconciling taxes and spending. Aided by favorable economic winds, the federal budget was balanced by the end of the 1990s.
Climate policy is in the midst of a dynamic very similar to that in budget policy in the 1980s and 1990s. Policies such as the Kyoto Protocol, the U.K. Climate Change Act, and the U.S. cap-and-trade (Waxman-Markey) bill are each "magical solutions" with considerable symbolic heft but precious little effect (actual or potential) on emissions. The poor actual or expected performance of these policies is presently rationalized in terms of the need to take the first tentative steps to put in place institutions that can eventually be focused more directly on the problem.
Emissions reduction has its own simple arithmetic. In the context of modest economic growth, emissions are reduced when energy efficiency improves and/or when energy supply is decarbonized. A direct approach to efficiency and expansion of low-carbon energy is much preferable to the indirect approach enshrined in current policies. A low carbon tax (priced as high as politically possible) could be used to raise funds to invest in technological innovation and deployment. While there are lessons to be learned from past policies (in places such as Japan on efficiency, France on nuclear power, the EU on wind and gas, and so on), the reality is that no one knows how to rapidly decarbonize a major economy or how fast decarbonization can actually take place. So there is merit in trying different approaches in different places.
Ultimately, depending on the relative success of mitigation policies, we may decide in a few decades to adopt a more brute-force approach to removing carbon directly from the atmosphere. In the meantime, however, we should take advantage of every opportunity to learn from efforts to decarbonize economic activity, with particular attention to realistic approaches and costs, such as contained in the Japanese proposal.
In contrast, policies focused on targets and timetables for emissions reductions avoid questions about the realism and costs of the steps actually needed to reduce emissions. As Stanford's David Victor explains, "setting binding emission targets through treaties is wrongheaded because it 'forces' governments to do things they don't know how to do. And that puts them in a box, from which they escape using accounting tricks (e.g., offsets) rather than real effort." Until policies focus more directly on improving efficiency and decarbonizing supply, accounting tricks will dominate the policy response, just as occurred in budget policy.
Symbolism is of course both necessary and important in politics. But when symbolism becomes a substitute for meaningful actions, as shown by the dismissive responses to Japan's emissions reductions proposal, then policy making runs the risk of becoming nothing more than an opportunity to bear witness to cherished values. For climate policy to actually succeed in reducing emissions, it must move beyond "magical solutions" to those that actually work. This means closing the large gap between aspirational goals and actual policy implementation. The global reaction to Japan's climate policy proposals indicates that this implementation gap remains very large and unlikely to close any time soon.Roger A. Pielke, Jr. is a professor in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado and a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). From 2001 to 2007, he served as director of CIRES' Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. He is also a Senior Fellow of the Breakthrough Institute, a Oakland, Calif.-based think tank that, among other issues, focuses on making the transition to a clean-energy economy. He is the author of the book The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics.
• This article was shared by our content partner Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network

The all-new Toyota Prius – silence of the lanes

Green cars have been branded overpriced, sluggish and ugly. Today, the most famous eco-car, the Toyota Prius, enters its third generation. Will the cleaner hybrid tempt buyers? Novelist Toby Litt took a test drive
Toby Litt, Friday 31 July 2009 16.51 BST
I drove it down to Brighton, because it seemed a very Brighton sort of car – a hybrid vehicle for a transition town. I was expecting it to receive admiration, affirmation, perhaps even sly congratulation. But did it get envying sideways looks from cyclists? Thumbs up from Green activists? Tranced out nods from dog-on-string trustafarians?
No, not really. In fact, it was much better at passing unnoticed, particularly at passing unheard. When running only on its self-recharging battery, the thing is virtually soundless. (I usually drive a P-reg Audi A4, the cassette-player in which – when rewinding – is louder than the Prius.)
And so, while trailing a bearded, grey-haired man for about a minute down one of Brighton's narrow lanes – him in the middle of the road and blithely unaware of the 5-door hatchback breathing down his neck – I had a realisation: the Prius might just be the best car ever for playing What's the Time, Mr Wolf?
Once I realised this, there was a great temptation to spend the next half-hour sneaking up on crusties and giving them a friendly bump in the tattooed calves. But this would, of course, be foolish, dangerous and, most of all mischievous. And there's not a smidgeon of any of these qualities about the Prius. It's sensible, safe and – you might almost say – puritanical. This is a car that doesn't just go, it also makes a stand. Driving it made me feel slightly chastened, as if I had my old RE teacher in the back seat.
Over and above a fuel-saving "Eco Mode", you can put the Prius into EV (Electric Vehicle) Mode, where it stops being hybrid and runs entirely on its battery. This only lasts for a couple of miles before it reverts to mere Eco, but if you do anything even mildly aggressive – get up to entry velocity on a busy roundabout, say – the display will, more in sadness than anger, tell you" "EV Mode has been turned off due to excessive speed."
I was almost surprised it didn't follow this up with, "Hey, compadre, why don't you just take a chill pill?" When I first turned the radio on, it had been set to Smooth FM. The advice sheet on "better driving" in the glove compartment perplexingly but characteristically read: "When driving at high speed, drive at a moderate and constant speed." Okay, I get the point.
But it is this very moderation that is the Prius's unique selling point. The car gently forces you to drive in an environmentally responsible way, and that means you don't have to feel so guilty about the fact you are transporting yourself to buy a pack of decaf tea from Tesco's in three tonnes of hi-tech metal. And products like this, ones we buy knowing they will gently force us to mend our ecocidal ways, are being marketed as the future – the future that tries to preserve the future of the future.
Although its looks are distinctive (a bit like a snowglobe-on-wheels that's been semi-flattened, aerodynamicised and had an aerofoil added on the back), the Toyota Prius isn't as much a statement here as in the US.
There, the "Pious Prius" has become a symbol of white-collar eco-smugness. You can join the Facebook group "I hate the Toyota Prius, and the liberal tree-huggers that drive them!" You can laugh at parody advertisements – one of which shows a man dragging a bagged up, weighed down corpse from the car's trunk towards a lake above the slogan, "Well, at least he drives a Prius." In California, it seems, you can attack them with rocks or by ramming them with less fuel-efficient cars, with impunity.
All of which seems to show how threatened some people feel by anything that appears unthreatening.
With more than 1m units sold, the Prius really is silently creeping up on American – and world – car culture.
It is, whisper it, a very sensible vehicle. A lot of intelligence has gone into its design. For example, the mph and SatNav arrows are displayed, by reflection, in the lower part of the driver's side windscreen – in plain view but not obtrusive. The question it poses, though, is whether sensible, unobtrusive, intelligent measures can save us as we plunge down the steep slope the other side of peak oil. As for me, I've seen the future, and it walks.

Ten years after the trailblazing Prius, electric cars have finally hit a high gear

With government incentives, public acceptance and increasing plaudits from the motoring press, electric cars could be on the road to success
Adam Vaughan, Friday 31 July 2009 21.55 BST
It's nearly a decade since the original Prius introduced hybrid petrol-electric cars to the UK in 2000. Produced in Japan a decade ago, the Prius – like its main rival by Honda – used a battery and electric motor to recover energy wasted from braking and rolling down hills. The result: one-third the emissions of a conventional car. Although Toyota's car was no overnight hit, backing from Leonardo DiCaprio and other stars coupled with an increasingly enthusiastic motoring press helped it sellmore than 1m worldwide. Other carmakers jumped on the hybrid bandwagon, including Ford and GM.
But hybrids are not the only route manufacturerscarmakers have been pursuing on the road to a low-carbon future. British and US drivers have been able to buy 100% electric vehicles since the late 1990s – notably the Ford TH!NK City in the UK and GM's EV1 in the US, which became the subject of the 2006 documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car?.
In the UK, the electric trailblazer has been the G-Wiz, the tiny Indian-built car popularised by London-based distributor Goingreen. While Goingreen has only sold around 1,000 G-Wizs, the car that people loved to praise (Boris Johnson is a fan) or mock (BBC's Top Gear has crashed and detonated several).
Major carmakers have flirted with selling a new generation of electric city cars to the UK public for several years – see the Smart ForTwo eEd and Mitsubishi i-MiEV – but their models have yet to reach the market. But theimage of electric vehicles as dowdy "Noddy" cars has begun to change, due to luxury electric sports cars such as California's Tesla Roadster and the British-designed Lightning GT.
Other green car developments have arrived under the radar. Since 2007, led by VW and its BlueMotion Polo, all the big carmakers have created "eco marques" – versions of existing cars tweaked for efficiencywith better aerodynamics, gearing and other measures – under names such as "ECOnetic" and "Blue Lion. More prosaically, last year saw a UK trend towards smaller cars with lower emissions: theThe small car sector was the only one to see growth grow in September.
This year, Honda launched its Insight – the cheapest hybrid in the UK so far at £15,490 – while next year GM hopes to reverse its fortunes with the launches the Volt hybrid, which will be branded the Vauxhall Ampera in Britain. 2010 will also witness the first hybrids will be made in Europe next year, plus there's the plug-in Prius capable of travelling further on pure electric power. Electric vehicles are increasingly being seen as the endgame for green cars. Powered from renewable sources, theoretically emission-free, and with political backing, from Gordon Brown to Barack Obama, £5,000 grants for buying one from 2011 and the promise of electric Minis may be enough to win people over.

University of St Andrews to build its own wind farm

The University of St Andrews, Scotland's oldest university, plans to build its own wind farm to generate electricity and save million of pounds.

By Matthew Moore Published: 7:00AM BST 31 Jul 2009

The university currently spends a "crippling" £5.4 million a year on energy and believes that wind power will allow it to cut costs while also reducing carbon emissions.
The new facility could even produce enough energy for St Andrews to turn a profit by selling electricity back to the National Grid.

"It's a great opportunity and we have got to explore it. There would be more cost certainty for the university and that's a good thing," said Roddy Yarr, the university's environment and energy manager.
"We have got to do something. We're just completely crippled by our energy costs. If the price of gas goes up, we have to pay for it, and that's money we could invest in research and teaching."
University officials have selected a 500-acre site called Kenly Farm around five miles from St Andrews and have already held discussions with local people.
The land is already owned by the university which is currently preparing a formal planning application, according to Times Higher Education.
Others universities are expected to follow St Andrews' lead in adopting renewable energy sources.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England will this week launch a consultation stating that universities will have to meet strict carbon targets – reducing emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050 – or face funding cuts.
Earlier this month country residents were told by the Government that they must accept the building of "many thousands" of wind turbines as part of a new green energy strategy.
Ed Miliband, the Energy Secretary, said that planning rules would be changed to make it easier for 6,000 onshore wind turbines to be built.

Police asked to ensure the Vestas protesters receive enough food

Paul Lewis and Tom Roberts, Friday 31 July 2009 20.32 BST

Police on the Isle of Wight will be asked to ensure food reaches men occupying the Vestas wind turbine factory tomorrow, after lawyers advised that the company could be breaking the law by preventing supplies from getting through.
Around 10 workers have staged a sit-in at the Danish-owned plant in Newport for almost two weeks. They complain the management are attempting to starve them out of the facility, and claim they have been given only sporadic meals – sometimes just a small sandwich and slice of pizza per day. Attempts by their supporters to throw them additional food parcels have been impeded by security staff and one worker emerged on Thursday to be told by ambulance staff that his blood sugar levels were dangerously low.
Union officials will meet with police tomorrow to lodge an official complaint after Louise Christian, the human rights lawyer, advised that in preventing food from getting through, Vestas and its security firm were committing a criminal offence under the Protection from Harrassment Act (1997). Christian added police have an obligation under the Human Rights Act to ensure Vestas was not preventing access to sufficient food.
"This advice confirms our concerns about the rights of the Vestas workers to decent food and we will be making immediate representations to the police in Newport to stop the private company from blockading these essential supplies," said Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union. "We will not allow the company and their private guards to starve the workers out. With the closure now pushed back it is even more important that the workers inside get nutritional meals on a regular basis." The Newport factory, the only major manufacturer of wind turbine blades in the UK, was due to close today with the loss of around 625 jobs. Vestas said "complications" arising from the industrial dispute had led it to extend its consultation period until at least 10 August. Peter Kruse, a vice-president at the company, said the men were being catered for. "We do not starve people," he said.
Vestas failed its legal attempt to secure a possession order from the local country court this week, a move that would have enabled bailiffs to be called. A judge at Newport County Court told lawyers for the company that papers had not been properly served on the men and adjourned the hearing until Tuesday.
Kruse said there was nothing the UK government could do to save the factory, which is being abandoned because there is "not enough in the pipeline" in terms of projected growth in the UK onshore market. "They can't create a big enough market overnight with the click of a finger," he said.

What's the environmental impact of a sky lantern?

They may be beautiful as they drift off into the night, but the party could soon be over for sky lanterns

Leo Hickman, Friday 31 July 2009 16.16 BST
I am getting married next year and when going to buy so-called 100% biodegradable "sky lanterns" I have been disgusted to find that they contain metal wires which obviously take years to degrade. Beautiful and fairly cheap they may be, but I for one will not allow even the possibility of harming animals to come from my wedding, and I strongly believe that others will feel the same – if they have the knowledge.
Saffron Light, by email
Less of a question, more of a statement, but I take your point, Saffron. I, too, have wondered about what happens to these sky lanterns once their brief blaze of glory begins to fade and they fall back to the ground. They are, indeed, a fairly splendid sight as they drift away into the night sky. But, as with the release of helium-filled balloons at a charity event, they must fall back to earth somewhere resulting in – at the very least – an eyesore for someone to clean up.
The claim made by some of the sky lantern retailers about their products being "biodegradable" is certainly worth exploring. If these paper lanterns did, indeed, rot away within a matter of days, then they might possibly claim to be environmentally benign. But, as you point out, they contain a thin metal wire support.
I rang one of the UK's leading online sky lantern retailers and asked its sales representative to put some flesh on this "biodegradable" claim. He said that the paper biodegrades within "six to eight weeks", and claimed that the "flourished wire" take nine months, on average, to break down.
How did he know this? "The manufacturers did some tests. But the wire is only eight inches long and accounts for just 1% of the lantern's mass."
Who are the manufacturers? "I don't know. They used to be in Thailand, but I think we get them from Japan now."
This answer intrigued me, because on the company's website it says that all its products are "sourced ethically" and that it "operates a fair trade agreement with our manufacturers". This led me to assume that it must have a very close relationship with its suppliers, so why the confusion about where the sky lanterns are sourced? I asked what this "fair trade" claim meant.
"Some of our competitors pay under the minimum wage in these countries. We ensure that we pay a fair wage." But such statements are next to meaningless without any form of proof or certification.
I came away from the conversation with far more concerns and questions than I entered it. For example, why should the claim that the wire takes nine months to break down be presented as a means of reassurance? Wire lying on the ground for nine months is surely a considerable hazard, depending on where it lands, for farm animals or children. And can metal wire really break down so quickly? I'm always digging up old bits of wire fencing in my garden (formerly a field) which must have been there for years, if not decades.
Back in April, a farmer who runs a wedding venue in the Staffordshire Moorlands banned the use of sky lanterns on his land due to similar concerns (thanks to the Guardian user Yamaman for a link that led me to the story). Mick Heath of Heaton House farm told the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire Sentinel: "Brides and grooms ask if they can let them off, but they do not understand that the wire in them takes ages to break down. He added:
If it gets wrapped up in hay bales it would be like swallowing razor blades for farm animals and if it falls into grassland it will kill wildlife. These lanterns are advertised very heavily in bridal magazines. Brides and grooms can see the attraction, but not the danger … One of our cows bled to death internally after eating shards of a discarded drink can. I want to do all I can to avoid any animal suffering like that again.
Margaret Heath, Mr Heath's wife, expressed an additional concern: "There is also the danger that if they come down alight they could start a fire on the moorlands, a fire in a tinder-dry cornfield or even someone's house. We really do not know where they are going to come down."
Sky lanterns have long been a tradition in east Asia. You only have to look at this footage of a sky lantern festival in Chiang Mai in Thailand to see how popular they are – and how potentially dangerous they can be when lit en mass.
But the party could be coming to an end. Last week, the Vietnamese prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, announced that a sky lantern ban would take effect from mid-September, says a report by VOV News:
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, almost 20 forest fires have been caused by burning sky lanterns since the beginning of the year. In Hanoi alone, there have been eight fires in workshops, electrical stations and houses caused by sky lanterns. Sky lanterns that fell on power stations in the capital were also blamed for causing power blackouts, during Lunar New Year's Eve earlier this year.
In Thailand, too, some local authorities are now starting to ban the sale of sky lanterns ahead of major festivals.
And closer to home, three German states have now banned the sale of the lanterns following the death of a 10-year-old boy in a house fire caused by a sky lantern in North Rhine-Westphalia. Even the UK coastguard is now starting to express concern about the site of these lanterns drifting out to see and mimicking the sight of distress flares.
I doubt it will be too long before a ban is considered here in the UK.