Light pollution 'saturates' UK's night skies

The Orion constellation Amateur stargazers were asked to study the Orion constellation

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Half of the UK's population cannot see many stars because the night skies are still "saturated" with light pollution, campaigners have warned.

Some 53% of those who joined a recent star count failed to see more than 10 stars in the Orion constellation.

That had decreased only very slightly from 54% since 2007, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Campaign for Dark Skies said.

The problem remained despite attempts to curb street lighting, they said.

They said that in 2010, local authorities collectively spent more than £500m on street lighting, accounting for 5% to 10% of each council's carbon emissions.

A number of councils have tested schemes to switch off or dim street lights when they are not needed, although the trials have often proved controversial with residents.

Sleeping patterns

The information was gathered as part of the annual Star Count survey, which was held across two weeks in January and February this year.

Almost 1,000 people in different locations around the country took part.

Participants were instructed to pick a clear night to count the number of stars in the constellation of Orion.

Start Quote

Many children growing up today will never see the Milky Way; never see the unimaginable glory of billions of visible stars shining above them”

End Quote Bob Mizon Campaign for Dark Skies

Fewer than one in 10 said they could see between 21 and 30 stars, and just 2% of people had truly dark skies, seeing 31 or more stars.

Emma Marrington, a rural policy campaigner for the CPRE, says: "When we saturate the night sky with unnecessary light, it damages the character of the countryside and blurs the distinction between town and country.

"But this isn't just about a spectacular view of the stars; light pollution can also disrupt wildlife and affect people's sleeping patterns."

'Glaring lights'

Bob Mizon of the CfDS believes light pollution is a disaster for anyone trying to study the stars.

"It's like a veil of light is being drawn across the night sky, denying many people the beauty of a truly starry night.

"Many children growing up today will never see the Milky Way; never see the unimaginable glory of billions of visible stars shining above them," he said.

For the first time, national guidance has been issued by the government, to encourage local planning authorities to reduce light pollution through design improvements.

The National Planning Policy Framework, published at the end of March, states that by encouraging good design, planning policies and decisions "should limit the impact of light pollution from artificial light on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation".

Start Quote

There is also a role for businesses to play in ensuring glaring lights and neon signs that light up the night sky are not left on unnecessarily”

End Quote Local Government Association

Ms Marrington from the CPRE welcomed the move, saying poor excuses for bad or excessive lighting were heard too often.

"Of course we need the right, well-designed lighting in the right places - and some areas need to be lit for safety reasons - but there should not be a blanket assumption that glaring lights are needed.

"The evidence gathered during this year's Star Count Week shows that we need to take action now to roll back the spread of light pollution."

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, said local authorities were "well ahead of the game on this issue".

"Over the past two years scores of local authorities up and down the country have been trialling the switching off and dimming of street lights late at night in quieter areas," it said.

However, it added, public safety had to come first and councils would not cut lighting if a large number of people were strongly opposed to the idea and there were genuine safety concerns.

It added: "There is also a role for businesses to play in ensuring glaring lights and neon signs that light up the night sky are not left on unnecessarily."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    On the odd occasions I get to see the stars I'm always struck by their beauty.

    They also show us our place in the cosmos. Without the stars there's a danger we think we're in a cocoon & this increases our self importance; crippling our world view. The stars can give us a sense of proportion, life is bigger than staring at a mobile phone or watching tv.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    The main problem in cities is not really the street lights (especially the newer downward facing ones) but the numbers of offices and other buildings that leave all the lights on all night. We need street lights for safety but what is the point of having empty buildings lit up like christmas trees all night? Advertising maybe? Whatever, it is a waste of energy

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    When I was a child I lived in Finchley, I can remember going out into the back garden, lying on my back and looking at the Milky Way, I shall shortly be moving to the French countryside, and I shall be able to go into the back garden, lie on my back and look at the Milky Way again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Now is this story in the media because local councils want to save money? Probably!! OK, the only ones to benefit from darker streets are minority groups like:-
    1. Stargazers, 2. Muggers & 3. Pavement trippers.
    So.....leave the lights on!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Can you imagine living in the inner cities (and some towns for that matter too) without adequate street lighting? Light saturation for parts of the country are a small price to pay for feeling safe and being able to see where you are going when you venture out after dark. I am sure the night sky looks spectacular away from the urban sprawl and that is where I will go to see it


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