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 24.

    Eeh when I were a lad all this were fields..

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    As a child during WW2 I was fascinated by the night sky.Because of the Blackout the night sky was spectacular. The main source of light pollution is the unnecessary use of security lights used on domestic premises. Instead having these lights on all evening and night, the only ones that should be used are those that light up when someone approaches the house at a close distance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    A sad feature of society is the number of people whose human gift of the appreciation of nature is dead, but they feel the need to brag about it on message boards.

  • 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 20.

    This is a difficult one. People in cities and towns want street lights for their feeling of security, however, there must be a better way of lighting our streets. They don't need to be so bright, offices and businesses don't need to keep their lights on all night. I am sure there has to be a way of reducing the amount of light that we use.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    There's too much pollution in our society, so let's target smokers while continuing to drive everywhere in inefficient vehicles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    When I was a child the lights went out before midnight and were turned on again early morning. I feel this is such a simple solution, why can't it be re-adopted as a standard practice. Even where safety and security are a factor in providing lights, the number of lights could be reduced to a minimum - and people's eyes adapt to the dark after a few minutes

  • 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

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.


    'If 'light pollution' stops me from tripping over the kerb, and more importantly if it gets my kids home safely, then I would rather have a streetlight than a star'...

    Have you ever thought of using a torch?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    So I guess Cameron will bring in some legislations that will cost us, he's already carbon taxed our pasties, now he's probably going to carbon tax us for Buckingham Palace to be lit up..

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    If the light pollution can be seen in monetary value, rather than how many stars can be seen in a constellation, this would have a greater effect in ensuring legislation is passed to curb this waste. If a council and local businesses realised they were losing £10million + per year on excessive unnecessary lighting they would reduce this waste. Saying only 10 stars are viewable in the sky wont.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Around where I live there is terrible light pollution making astronomical observing much more difficult than it should be. I have photographs taken of Orion at home and in places with no light pollution and the difference is phenomenal. Our children can barely see the stars let alone the Milky Way in any urban areas and this reduces their appreciation of the natural word.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    My view is that human consciousness was born gazing at the night sky and wondering what it meant to be sitting on a ball of rock that went around a star in space. All that we have today is because our ancestors in different parts of the world tried for generations to understand, explain, measure, manipulate and efficiently extract as much from nature. It will be sad to lose this cosmic connection.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    If 'light pollution' stops me from tripping over the kerb, and more importantly if it gets my kids home safely, then I would rather have a streetlight than a star.
    I can always drive out somwehere to visit the stars if I feel the need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I used to regularly visit a farm in France and was a) totally shocked by how dark it gets at night and b) how many thousands and thousands of stars were in the sky. (I really am a town boy)
    I used to just stand there looking up at the sky with a silly grin on my face (my French hosts thought I was a bit simple).
    The solution to this problem is simple, turn the lights off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    What? You mean there are actually stars up there?
    I haven't seen any for years, and put it down to the recession.
    All I see is just a pale orange glow, akin to when Londinium was on fire during the riots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Oh! This old chestnut again. What next I wonder? Answer; if you really feel the need to gaze up at the stars: get out of the city. Simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    A man who does not light his way cannot see...

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.


  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Just as it is good for the mind and spirit to be able to see long and expansive terrestrial vistas and panoramas, so is it good for the mind and spirit to take in the vastness and beauty of the night sky.
    Having spent all my life in London, I've recently moved to a rural location and am really enjoying stargazing.
    It certainly puts our earthly existence into some kind of perspective.


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