FARMERS have called for an outright ban on Chinese lanterns.

The lanterns have surged in popularity in recent years with many people mistaking them for UFOs.

Made of paper with a wire structure and powered by a tea-light type candle, they can drift for several miles before they burn out and land.

Packs of lanterns can now be bought on the internet for as little as £9, with many people launching them to celebrate birthdays or mark national holidays or events.

Glow Company, a British retailer, said lantern sales had nearly quadrupled last year from 29,000 to 100,000 units.

But following numerous reports of livestock being injured or killed after consuming the wire shells, the National Farmers Union (NFU) has stepped up its campaign to ban the lanterns.

Spokeswoman Rachael Gillbanks said on top of the concerns for animal welfare there were fears the lanterns could cause a major rural fire. She said: “Farmers right across the country have been having terrible problems with these things.

“The wires have got caught around the necks of sheep which can cause nasty injuries.

“We’ve also had people extremely worried about the whole fire risk, especially with the dry conditions we’ve been having.

“Farmers have told us some of the lanterns are coming down still alight, narrowly missing barns full of hay and straw.

“Some are even worried that whole fields of standing crops could go up in flames.

“We’ve been looking at this for a long time, but not much has happened.”

Ms Gillbanks said other countries, including Germany and Australia, had already banned the lanterns.

And she said there were even concerns bits of wire could end up in the food chain.

She added: “Some are getting caught up in combine harvesters and there are worries that tiny bits of wire could start appearing in the animal and the human food chain.

“Whilst they are very pretty we’ve had animals die from ingesting the wire.

“Once that goes down to the stomach it can cause really nasty internal injuries.

“We’re working with the industry to see what can be done, but we think the lanterns are really not worth the risk.”

Terry Jones, NFU acting director of communications, said they would now be lobbying the government for action.

He said: “We have given manufacturers, as well as suppliers, time to take on board our concerns over the sale of these lanterns and move to a safer and more environmentally-friendly solution.”