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 64.

    Please turn the street lights off after pub closing I think its a waste of money to have lights on at 4am and generates lots of CO2.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    OK, the only ones to benefit from darker streets are minority groups like:-
    1. Stargazers"

    Given the viewing figures for BBC's Stargazing Live in January, the attendance at events that week, and the huge increase in telescope sales afterwards, the interest in stargazing is much greater than you think.

    60. hectoring

    Amateur astronomers make a huge contribution to astronomy.

  • 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 61.

    Its not just about disturbed nights, waste of money but about wildlife there are serious problems for them. Perhaps the jokers that have 'contributed' would like to see lower council taxes, less carbon emissions, less energy wastage, less sleeping pills dished out by GPs, or maybe they dont think past the end of the article.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Just to point out, Britain is hardly suited for stargazing. Light in the sky is the last of your problems, the constant rain & cloud are far more debilitating in your chances of seeing stars. Also, since they put up the Hubble in orbit there isn't much scope to Earth-bound telescopes (in the visual spectrum anyhow). Want stars in the sky, move to Arizona.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Perhaps if "Half of the UK's population" didn't all live in one congested part of the UK, then this wouldn't be so much of an issue??

    The the UK has 2 of the handful of Dark Sky Parks in Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    While 'light pollution' cannot per se be truly regarded as damaging in any way, the waste of energy is and is the real concern.

    Let's not forget, however, that we live in one of the most densely populated countries in the western world and that is also a significant factor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    OMG!!! light pollution.... come'on

    What next! "cloud pollution" We can't see the sun due to overcast. Quickly, call an emergency meeting to solve this crisis.

    On another note, it might help if folk don't stand under a streetlight while attempting to look at the stars.

  • 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 55.

    Oh no, say it aint so. Reletive to the current state of the country this is trivial drivel. I don't care about seeing stars. It's burglars and muggers I'm watching out for mate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    50. Paul C

    How does that work for people who don't work a regular 9 - 5 and need to walk to work or to pick up public transport?

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Reducing light pollution isn't about switching all lights off. It's about being smarter about how lights are deployed. Light scattered into the air is of no use to anyone and is a nuisance to those wishing to have dark skies. It's not the either/or situation cited by those here fearful of tripping over! Light pollution now extends well past the point where it's a comfortable drive to see stars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    City lighting is an expensive lazy habit. Cars are able to use unlit country lanes at night. Home from the pub, use a torch - and drink less: no lamp posts to lean on. Soused youths performing in the dark? No one watching, no fun. Safety? Muggers lurking in dark doorways can choose their victims. If all they can see is the torch, they may pick one they can't handle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    @36 Mooker
    Light is not pollution.

    I would consider my neighbour's garden light which comes on every time an ant walks across his driveway and which then proceeds to light up half of my house as pollution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    We should halve the number of all street lights that we have, and turn them all off after midnight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    However, I fear this report is a back door attack by the carbon emissions lobby rather than a genuine concern for our ability to see stars."

    So you think it is sensible idea to waste lots of energy (and therefore money) lighting up the sky for no good reason or benefit to society? Next time you complain about council taxes remember this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Half the UK population? I wonder how much of the UK population as a percentage live in a city...

    Regarding the stars, while it can be nice to see them it is hardly what I would call a pressing matter. Added to the fact that, where I live a large proportion of the year is spent under heavy cloud cover anyway.

    If you like looking at the stars, move, it is your hobby not ours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Another reason for not embarking on any more massive housing developments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I live in a dark village (no street lights at all). Most residents like it, and it causes no problems at all. I'm baffled why we feel the need to light our streets at night. I must cost a fortune.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    My road in deserted at night . we are a cul de sac yet the street lights are on all night. people have complained but they won't turn them off. most people now have to have black outs on our windows to get any sleep.


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