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 284.

    @273.pmonkey, I agree with you partially but, I believe you missed what I said. I stated it would be ok if the council "dimmed" the lights,not to switch it off. Switching it off completely could "potentially" cause "more" unforeseen incidents and issues which I'd rather nobody experiences. Nonetheless, I still agree that council should dim night lamps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    I just wish that I could get my neighbours to turn off the lights they have at either sides of their front door.It looks like Christmas all year round and I have to have blackout curtains. Don't know what their idea is!

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    "235. helo thar

    Still not sure why I got horribly downvoted for pointing out we could look at high resolution digital images on a computer. They will look exactly the same as real life."

    No. They won't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    There is a lack of government action to tackle light pollution, which wastes energy, contributing to CO2 emissions.

    This e-petition calls on government to introduce a coordinated strategy to address the problem, and to confer on the night sky protected status similar to a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

    If you care, add your voice here:

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Bad luck Townies, you have street lighting. We in the countryside can see everything including "shooting Stars" I hate that I have to pay part of my council Tax for your streets to be lit .However I am sad for those in Sodium light areas.They as not safe they have blind spots underneath the light. But are good for sky gaizers as the bandwidth is narrow & can be filltered.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    I would like ALL street lighting turned off. If the dark scares you take a torch. As for safety on the roads it would be far safer with no street, shop or office lighting to distract you and I've yet to own a car that did not have things called headlights on to see in the dark.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    It's unrealistic to expect the lights to be turned down in our major conurbations - just an inevitable consequence of having a developed economy. Instead why not have areas designated as dark sky zones where this sort of thing can be enforced and monitored, for example in the National Parks in England and Wales or the Scottish Highlands?

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    this and street names the sum total of HYS. and you try and tell us this not political.who is the man in charge? one can only speculate.comment removed comming up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    I'm an avid stargazer, there's nothing more incredible than the night sky in all its' glory.On the other side of the coin where I live the streetlights have just been replaced with low energy white lights that are no good unless you're stood directly underneath them and it's too dark so you get dazzled by people in cars with full beam on so can't see the stars anyway! Can't win!

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    I am intrigued why people think there will be more crime with less lights- I'm fairly sure that there was less crime before someone decided there needed to be a streetlight every two metres. Unless of course the criminals have evolved to have night vision? Then I suppose we should be worried.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    theres an awful amount of moody people on here today. prolly cos they didn't get enough sleep cos the birds couldnt really tell if it was day or night due to the lights being too bright....

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    266. T-Rheal

    It may shock you to realise that people go to and return from work in the dark, so turning off street lamps does disadvantage these people - not everyone out at night is out on the town or a crook.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    How about turning the lights off when its coming up to and out of a full moon and it's not so cloudy. When in Crete last year we could barely see the Milky Way when it was a up to and out of a full moon. Let nature take the strain a bit. After all it's what they had to do for a very long time...still have them mugger and murders then!

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    Why are so many people misunderstanding this? It's not about lights being switched off. It's about the light pointing downwards. Plus the bonus of more efficiently directed lights using less energy.
    Plus Bob Mizon is a top bloke who taught me French and Astronomy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    When proper light design meets light engineering in the local councils, the result will be safer streets, low energy consumption and beautiful skies to watch.

    When was the last time you saw the jewels of the sky?

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    Most rural crime is committed by townies (just read the court reports and see where they live). In rural areas crime goes up when there is a full moon and down on moonless nights. Ask any rural Police Officer. My local rural Police put more officers on shift around a full moon.

    All muggers and burglars are cowards who would run home to mummy if the street lights in the towns were turned off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    Isn't it better that streets are lit in order that someone can see potential hazards whilst walking about rather than they are switched off to allow a few interested individuals to look up into the night sky and see what? some pinpricks of light smaller than a 5p piece.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    254.Total Mass Retain

    I would note that the rabid right on here seem to be amazed on every HYS that there are people who hold views that are different to theirs. I'm not sure which of the two is worse.

    Thats a very fair point. What i would say though is that most of us on the rabid right tend to laugh at the loony left whilst the loony left hurl uncontrolled bile at the rapid right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    Those arguing about needing lights at night, your argument is fairly flawed. We could save more energy if people weren't always recklessly spending nights out in clubs and walking home late in the night. Oh and PS, those that get all drunk after nights out don't always find their way home anyways. So I say ; Councils should just dim the lights as planned. People need to grow up already.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    You have totally missed the point ! No one is trying to deprive you of light - only to ensure that the light is directed down at the ground instead of into the sky to make the most efficient use of YOUR (and everyone else's) money.

    Try not to panic and please don't exaggerate about all the criminals waiting to get you. I'm sure it's not really that bad.


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