AN inquiry has been launched into banning the release of sky lanterns from more than 1,000 publicly-owned sites across England’s largest county.

As momentum continues to build behind a long-running campaign by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) to deter people at events such as weddings from releasing the mini hot-air balloons, North Yorkshire County Council has agreed to examine the best ways of reducing their impact.

Earlier this year, local authorities in Yorkshire and the North-East came under fire after it emerged only a few had taken steps to stop people releasing lanterns on their land. Councils in Yorkshire and the North-East that have already banned the release of sky lanterns on their land include Bradford, Calderdale, East Riding, Hartlepool, Kirklees, Leeds, Northumberland, Selby, South Tyneside, Wakefield and Richmondshire.

While approving its ban on releasing the lanterns at almost 100 sites it owns across one of England’s largest districts last month, Richmondshire council also launched an inquiry into finding the most effective measures to stop people releasing them.

A full meeting of the county council heard more than 200,000 of the lanterns continue to be released each year, partly because many people remain ignorant about the risks they pose.

Councillor Bryn Griffiths said taking action in North Yorkshire was vital as it was predominantly rural, featured two national parks, with fire-prone open moorland, many farm animals and an array of wildlife.

He said: “While they can look pretty and mesmerising, few people are aware of the potentially deadly consequences fallen lanterns can have for animals and the environment.

“Sky lanterns have the potential to travel miles from their original release site in an uncontrolled manner before returning to land sometimes still alight.”

The Liberal Democrat member for Stokesley said aside from the fire risk, the lanterns posed a threat to wild animals which could become entangled in their wire frames and could kill animals that eat them.

He told the meeting he hoped the authority would throw its weight behind a long-running campaign by the NFU, which has already seen more than 160 local authorities ban the release of sky lanterns on council-owned land.

Cllr Griffiths said the county council also needed to call on parish and town councils to ban lanterns from being released on their land, as well as work with businesses, communities, landowners and schools to educate people about the dangers.

The authority’s chairman, Cllr Jim Clark, said after he became aware of the strength of feeling about the issue, he decided it needed more careful consideration than a single debate could produce and called on the council’s Corporate and Partnership Scrutiny Committee to investigate the matter.