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 124.

    There is no such thing as "light pollution". Light is light - it exists so we can see.

    If a bunch of superannuated hippies want to gaze at the stars, all they have to do is go outside built-up areas. There are plenty of such places.

    I am surrounded by thieves; light helps my camera system to deter them.

    It is really beyond belief how people get themselves worked up over things like this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    @ 111. ukblahblahblacksheep
    I'd love to be your neighbour - how considerate of you not to care how lights over 100 watts may affect the people around you. There is NO NEED for anyone to have those godawful 400 or 500W megalights for security; 100W is enough, but still annoying if you live next door to one going off everytime a cat walks by. I seriously hope your post was an attempt at humour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    If roads are so much safer with street lights, why aren't unlit roads closed at night for safety?
    Similarly, I don't see signs on unlit portions of motorways warning of lower safety levels.
    Residential street lights are a scurge especially after midnight, glaring through windows disrupting healthy sleep patterns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    In my experience streetlights are improving in this respect: there used to be those spherical ones in residential areas that spread light in all directions, but i've not seen them for years.
    For me the biggest offenders are private individuals, and businesses such as pubs who illuminate their buildings with multiple 500W halogens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    The problem is clear if you fly into UK from the continet at night.

    On the other side of the channel there are comparatively few lights visible, but when you cross to our side there is little but a sea of sodium lighting - far too much. I guess it's down to our old friend "health and safety" again

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    "When I reach to the edge of the universe
    I do so knowing that along some paths of cosmic discovery
    There are times when, at least for now,
    One must be content to love the questions themselves"

    - Neil Degrassi Tyson

    Stars are beautiful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    "Campaign For Dark Skies"

    Have we now officially run out of worthy causes to campaign for?

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Re 99. Don't know why you are negating me - I was being sarcastic (or did you not see "pavement pollution". Hint.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    107. JC

    Because although I know it was a flying saucer, I still do not know what it was, i.e. E.T. , or inter-dimensional visitor, or time traveler, or Spiritual Master, or black ops secret technology back-engineered from Roswell? All I know is what I saw, and it defied all ordinary description or explanation in terms of appearance and behaviour.

  • 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 114.

    Light pollution is terrible. The sky is that bright that nowadays the moon is also visible in the sky, something you never saw thousands of years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    The reason for light pollution - Lights that are inefficient. £500 million a year spent on trying to light the sky rather than the pavement. They buy the cheapest, or best looking and pay the highest maintenence because of it. My own Council still has globe style lighting outside its main office. .

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    We had a clean air act and now we need a Light pollution act. Even in places where the street lights go off people are thoughtlessly installing large unshielded lighting fixtures that pollute the neighborhood. Why is it that I can complain about sound pollution but we are all expected to put up with light? Particularly as light during sleep is a well known cause of cancer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    #91. Tony
    'Why not restrict external lighting on private property to 100 watts..'

    Bit radical...sounds like an argument for the NANNY STATE to interfere in MY PRIVATE life. If i can afford to have 100 watt lights blasting away all night then that is MY right as someone who doesn't want to pay tax. Are u a Communist? Sometimes i get so angry i could throw the keyboard down...

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Why do the general public need to count stars? What purpose does this serve? Most people are in there houses anyway at night. For people like me who walk everywhere, street lighting is essential, seeing the stars isn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    My council switched off some streetlights but had to switch them back on when the number of accidents increased. The Blackout in WW2 caused a huge increase in accidents that prompted the King's Surgeon, Wilfred Trotter, to complain that the blackout was killing more people than enemy bombs. Surely, safety must take priority over the desire of a few eccentrics for a better view of the stars

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    " farkyss
    I don't know why you're complaining for, this comment was essentially correct - this is a result of the explosion of population"

    Hardly. Light pollution has been a problem for at least 20 years and the Campaign for Dark Skies at least that old. Most new street lighting does conform to efficient designs so if new lighting was "immigrant led" then it would be less polluting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    How can it be a UFO (i.e. 'Unidentified' Flying Object) if you have identified without doubt as a 'flying saucer' ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Friends of mine had never seen the milky way even though they luckily lived in a dark sky area. The reason was because they never looked up at night! Once I explained it they couldn't believe what they were seeing. I think with a bit more thought and education, everyone could be better off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Light pollution is destruction of nocturnal habitat.

    There were campaigns back in the 1980s' (Heather Cooper on BBC) to limit light pollution. Fly over GB at night and you can see thousands of street light bulbs, this would not be possible if they lit downwards and not up and sidewards.

    We could save as much as 2 power stations of energy just fixing the street lights !


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