Last Friday 25 April 2014 the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) released a report (pdf) entitled “Shedding Light: a Survey of Local Authority Approaches to Lighting in England”, that addresses the growing problem of light pollution in rural areas.
Light pollution from towns and cities spreads a long way, lighting the sky up and spoiling the view of the stars even in areas with few or no lights of their own. However that’s only the tip of the iceberg. According to CPRE:
Street lighting in England costs councils approximately £616m per year and can account for up to 30% of their carbon emissions so tackling light pollution will have a triple benefit – cutting costs and carbon too.
Although around one third of councils surveyed were switching lights off between midnight and 5am, when they aren’t needed, and around one half of councils dimming lights at similar times, there is still much more to be done.
According to Emma Marrington, CPRE Dark Skies Campaigner:
‘The results of our survey show that many local authorities are taking steps in the right direction to manage lighting more effectively. But much more can be done to encourage all authorities to take this issue more seriously.
‘We urge councils to do more to control lighting in their areas, and ensure that the right lighting is used only where and when it is needed. We often hear concerns that changing street lighting can impact on public safety but our research revealed no evidence to support this. We’re not advocating changes where they’re not appropriate, but why shine bright lights on residential streets, quiet roads and open countryside throughout the night when it’s not needed?
‘Genuine dark starry nights are becoming harder and harder to find which is why councils should take action to control it now. Light pollution blurs the distinction between town and country, ruins the countryside’s tranquil character and denies us the experience of a truly starry sky.’
CPRE ends the report by making nine recommendations:
- Light pollution policy All local authorities should have a policy to control light pollution in their Local Plan, in line with the National Planning Policy Framework and the associated National Planning Practice Guidance on light pollution. This should include identifying existing dark areas that need protecting.
- Street lighting policy Local authorities should consider preparing a Street Lighting Policy, which could include Environmental Lighting Zones to ensure that the appropriate lighting levels are used in each zone, with very strict requirements applying in identified dark areas.
- Part-night lighting schemes We encourage local authorities to investigate how part-night lighting schemes (e.g. switching off between midnight and 5am) or dimming could work in their areas, including examining the cost, energy and carbon savings. This should be done in full consultation with the local community.
- LANTERNS research project All local authorities who are switching off or dimming street lighting should monitor crime and accident statistics and consider taking part in the Institution of Lighting Professionals/LANTERNS research project which aims to quantify any effects of changes to street lighting on road traffic accidents and crime.
- LED lighting Local authorities should give careful consideration to the type of Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting they use and consider the potential impacts that higher temperature blue-rich lighting has on ecology and human health.
- Targets for replacing lights Local authorities with responsibility for street lighting could set targets for replacing all their street and road lights with less light polluting types, such as full cut off flat glass lamps.
- Testing new street lighting New street lighting should be tested ‘in situ’ before a lighting scheme is rolled out across a wider area to ensure that it is the minimum required for the task and does not cause a nuisance to residents.
- Preserving dark skies Local authorities should have a strong presumption against new lighting in existing dark areas, unless essential as part of a new development or for public safety reasons that have been clearly demonstrated.
- Highways Agency guidance The Highways Agency should review the lighting section of the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges, which is used to design motorway and trunk road lighting, to ensure it remains relevant for local authorities.
The whole report makes for interesting reading, but a few things stand out:
- only 65% of councils in England have a policy on lighting
- 87% of these councils said it was a continuation of an existing policy; only 13% had adopted a new policy as a result of the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
- The top three reasons that councils were switching off lights at night are:
- 95%: Energy Saving
- 91%: Cost Saving
- 43%: Reduced Light Pollution
- The top three reasons that councils were switching off lights at night are:
- 97%: Energy Saving
- 78%: Cost Saving
- 54%: Reduced Light Pollution
- 11 councils said that dimming schemes had gone largely unnoticed by the community
- 91% of councils that are switching off lights are continuing to work with local police to monitor local crime statistics
Once again the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the British Astronomical Association’s Campaign for Dark Skies are running a UK-wide star count programme. This year’s event takes place between 20-27 January 2012. On any of these nights the skies will be dark enough to begin your star count by 7pm.
To make your own observations for Star Count 2012 find Orion in the sky and count how many stars you can see within the rectangular boundary formed by the four brightest stars in Orion. Those boundary stars are called Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel and Saiph.
You should count the three belt stars – Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka – plus any other stars that are visible. The above star map shows around 40 stars within that boundary. If you can see that many stars then you’ll be in one of the darkest places in the UK. For most of us we’ll count far fewer stars than that. People in very bright urban areas may only see the three belt stars.
UPDATE: I should have mentioned that the CPRE will accept observations from anywhere in the UK, not just England.
Exmoor National Park in the SW of England has just been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve, Europe’s first, by the International Dark Skies Association. This follows three years of work by park authorities, local astronomers, lighting engineers and the resident community, and is a huge achievement.
I first met Emma Dennis, the landscape officer for Exmoor National Park Authority who led the whole process, in 2008 when I brought the idea to her that Exmoor’s dark skies and favourable weather made it an ideal site for a dark sky reserve.
There followed months of painstaking dark sky surveys, some of the most detailed that have been carried out in the UK, as well as the creation of a strict set of lighting controls governing all new developments within the national park.
Amateur astronomers have long known that the skies above Exmoor offer something special – a unique combination of low levels light pollution and regular clear nights, as can be seen in this map produced by the Campaign for Dark Skies.
Dr Nigel Stone, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park said: “We are delighted that the importance of dark skies, one of Exmoor National Park’s special qualities has received this international recognition and we would like to thank all those who have helped in achieving this International Dark Sky Reserve award. We look forward to welcoming many more visitors in the future to enjoy the starlit skies at night as well as the spectacular scenery Exmoor has to offer during the day.”
This designation was sought for two main reasons: 1. the park authority, working with the Campaign to Protect Rural England, recognises and values tranquility as a key asset, and a dark sky is part of that mission; and 2. there is a real opportunity for Exmoor National Park to extend its tourist season right through the winter months using the dark skies to attract astrotourism, something already being done by Sark and Galloway Forest Park.
Exmoor’s designation now means that the UK has a “full-house” of IDA designations – the only country in the world to have this – in that it has a Dark Sky Park (Galloway Forest Park), a Dark Sky Community (Sark) and a Dark Sky Reserve (Exmoor). The differences between these designations are important. The Dark Sky Park designation is intended for parks with little or no population (the model being US National Parks). Dark Sky Community status is aimed at communities – towns, cities, islands – that want to preserve their night sky. And Dark Sky Reserve status, while meant for large parks also, allows communities to exists within the Reserve, surrounding a dark sky core, which is strictly protected, while public engagement and awareness raising of the issues of light pollution spreads from that core to the surrounding reserve.
Congratulations to all at Exmoor National Park, especially Emma Dennis, who had the vision to make this possible, who have protected Exmoor’s skies from light pollution and preserved them for future generations of stargazers.
|Dark Sky Place||Designation||Date Achieved||Area||Dark Sky Readings (SQM-L)|
|Galloway Forest Park||International Dark Sky Park||Nov 2009||780 km2||21.3 – 21.9|
|Sark, Channel Islands||International Dark Sky Community||Jan 2011||6 km2||21.3 – 21.4|
|Exmoor National Park||International Dark Sky Reserve||Oct 2011||692 km2||21.2 – 21.8|
You can read the press release from Exmoor National Park Authority here.
Star Count Week (Monday 31 January – Sunday 06 February 2011) aims to get you outside and looking up, specifically to assess how dark – or light – your sky is.
The technique is simple. 1. Find Orion. 2. Count all the stars you can see within the main rectangle formed by Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel and Saiph, the four stars that make up Orion’s shoulders and feet. (including the three bright belt stars). 3. Tell the CPRE.
That’s it. By counting how many you can see, astronomers can calculate your sky’s limiting magnitude, or the brightness of the faintest stars you can see. It’s a very simple – and rewarding – project to take part in.
There are other annual star count programmes, such as GLOBE at Night (March 22 – April 4 2011) which I blogged about during their 2010 event. You can also get more involved and conduct a detailed dark sky survey, or take part in local activities such as the Peak District National Park’s Orion in the Peak project