A CHARITY balloon release has been slammed by environmental campaigners worried about its impact on wildlife.

Weymouth RNLI fundraisers are planning a sponsored balloon release on May 5.

But environmental campaigners are calling on the charity to cancel the event over fears the balloons could harm marine wildlife.

They say turtles mistake balloons underwater for one of their main prey, jellyfish, eat them and then cannot regurgitate them, resulting in death.

Steve Trewhella, 50, is an environmental campaigner and professional marine wildlife photographer.

He said he sees first-hand the impact rubbish in the sea has on wildlife and that balloons from the race would add this.

He said he is ‘horrified’ at the idea of the event and said it is sponsoring littering.

With the recent storms throwing rubbish onto Dorset’s beaches, Mr Trewhella said: “Do we really need any more manmade objects in the sea? Surely not. Surely we should be addressing the problem not adding to it.”

He added: “The RNLI does a great job. But it can do a great job without having to release balloons. It’s just not acceptable.

Event organiser Tony Beeson said the RNLI will hold a litter pick to offset any litter.

He said: “We have been very careful because we had these fears before we even started organising the event.

“We have made sure the balloons and the paper that will be tied to them is biodegradable.

“The other thing we have planned is to carry out a litter pick so that hopefully we can pick more litter than we will temporarily make.

“There is a concern that before the balloon and paper biodegrade, they are litter. We will certainly pick more litter than we make.”

Mr Beeson said there are ‘no plans’ to halt the race but that if someone wanted to make a sizeable donation the organisers might reconsider.

“If someone was to come along and say ‘here’s a healthy donation’, in those circumstances, we would see.

“What we try to do is vary the activities we put on.We are trying to raise money for a very important charity.”

A further statement issued by a spokesman for the RNLI said: “The balloon race, scheduled for 5 May, is raising funds in aid of the RNLI but has not been organised by the RNLI.

“We are grateful to anyone who wishes to organise an event to raise funds for the RNLI but we take environmental issues very seriously.

“We are speaking with the event organisers about the best way forward but it is difficult to consult all of those involved with the organisation of the race because of the Easter break.

“We appreciate the patience of those who have raised their concerns.”

  • CAMPAIGNERS took to social media site Twitter to raise their concerns.

Ian T tweeted: “You do great work RNLI but please reconsider and cancel this Weymouth balloon launch. You really should know better.”

Mike Kinsey said: “Balloon releases might be fun, but amount to littering and once burst and fallen in water look like food to marine life.”

Learn to Sea tweeted: “The RNLI do a top job of saving lives but please don't threaten marine wildlife with a balloon release. Please think again.”

Just One Ocean tweeted: “I support the RNLI but please don't release balloons to raise funds.”

The RNLI responded to their concerns on Twitter saying: “Thanks for raising concerns about the balloon race. We take environmental matters seriously so will relay your points to the event organiser.”