A LEADING rural insurer is calling on the general public to not release sky lanterns in support of the NHS over the coming weeks.

With a first set of releases planned by companies specialising in sky lanterns this week, NFU Mutual – who has a branch in Oswestry – is calling for planned releases of sky lanterns to be abandoned.

It is concerned that plans for a mass release of sky lanterns ‘in support of the NHS’ could start grassland or property fires in current dry conditions.

It is also warning the public that debris from burnt-out lanterns can kill grazing sheep and cattle.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said that while people owe the NHS 'a huge debt of gratitude', they should not release lanterns.

She said: "We are urging the public to show their support in other ways as none of us wants to put additional pressure on emergency services.

"Sky lanterns present a fire risk in both urban and rural areas. Debris from burnt out lanterns can also injure and even kill grazing farm animals if they eat it.

“The countryside is extremely dry after three weeks without rainfall and sky lanterns released now could start grassland and moorland fires as well as putting homes and commercial premises at risk.

"Fires caused by sky lanterns are entirely preventable, and at a time when fire service crews are needed as an essential part of the coronavirus emergency response. We are urging the public not to use sky lanterns but show their support for the NHS in other ways."

NFU Mutual claims statistics reveal the cost of farm fires totalled £46.4m in 2018.