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Light pollution and wildlife

Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 11:33 UK time, Wednesday, 19 May 2010

As the number of streets lights has risen our night skies have been getting brighter. This is welcome news for some: more street lights means less crime, or at least less fear of crime. For others it's a case of more light pollution causing yet more damage to our environment.

This year on 27 March the WWF held their fourth annual Earth Hour. They asked supporters across the world to switch off their lights for one hour to make a stand against climate change. The British Astronomical Association's Campaign for Dark Skies also advocates that councils and organisations use "the right amount of light, and only where needed" to help stargazers.

Some counties in the UK have already started reduced street lighting trials designed to cut public spending and save energy.

But it's not just about cash, carbon and stars. There's also evidence to suggest that artificial lighting is affecting our wildlife. According to the Butterfly Conservation Trust [pdf] moths are in trouble. This could be because they're attracted to street lights where they're more visible to predators like toads and bats. By adopting a street light as their takeaway of choice, these predators are in turn more vulnerable to fatal encounters with domestic cats and traffic.

Could the lesser horseshoe bat be a victim of light pollution? © Emma Stone
A lesser horseshoe bat © Emma Stone

Another theory is that nocturnal animals avoid artificial light sources altogether, radically changing their normal behaviour. These changes are rarely beneficial. Some waste valuable energy travelling longer routes to feeding grounds. Others delay or even abandon feeding and mating routines. Conservationists are particularly concerned about British bats. Numbers have decreased so dramatically over the last century that all 17 resident species are now protected by law.

One group of scientists doing its bit to investigate is The Bats and Lighting Research Project at Bristol University. Emma Stone and her team are investigating the impact of street lights on how lesser horseshoe bats feed and how they travel to food along 'linear features' like hedgerows.

Emma Stone conducting field research with her portable street lights © Emma Stone
The Bats and Lighting Project in the field © Emma Stone

The team at Bristol University have to consider how bats and humans can live together. And this is where you can help. They've set up an online survey to find out your opinions about light pollution and what potential solutions you would be happy with in your area.

Obviously the more opinions they get, the better the results so please help them by filling in the survey. We'd also like to know what you think. Would you feel safe with less lighting at night? Do you live in an area that's testing out part night lighting? Share your stories and comments with us below.


  • Comment number 1.

    I just heard that SPRINGWATCH 2010 is to start on the 31May .

    Won't it be too late for the birds and all to be mating/fledging and stuff? Surely end of may is practically Summer!

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Tina, it does feel late in the year but really it's always on in late May. Rest assured, it's the best time of year to get all the action all in one place.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Jeremy - Yes - light pollution is a pest even for us humans and here in South London noone in authority seems to even consider it. And there seems no co-ordination between those responsible for lighting our streets so one lot comes along and puts up lights, and then another lot put up some more! Then there's the railways, who seem to light their stations like football stadiums all night, even when they are shut. Where I live, I can do without putting the lights on inside the house - there's enough coming in from outside. No wonder the birds are confused. The poor blackbirds must be exhausted - they sing all night.
    Incidentally - my cat really enjoys Springwatch. As soon as it begins ( and other nature programmes too) she takes up a place in front ot the screen and watches intently. Especially when there are birds! As she doesn't chase them in the garden ( even the pigeons take no notice of her as she sits and looks at them) she must be the only feline twitcher in London!

  • Comment number 4.

    See, I'm a weird little stick, as I feel much, much safer in complete darkness then walking somewhere with lots of light so everyone can see where I am. I can see pretty well in the dark as my eyes are very light sensitive, so I often see others way sooner before they even notice that someone is near them.

    We have a street light just outside of our window & I hate, hate, hate it.
    Not to mention the cricket field near us...When they put their light up it's like it's day at night! It's ridiculous.

    Less lights, more common sense I say.

  • Comment number 5.

    Having visited the beautiful Isle of Mull last year, it was horribly obvious to come home to suburban Leicestershire and have orange street lights on all night. We had a power cut the other night and it was bliss!

  • Comment number 6.

    I have a pidgeon nesting on my sky dish. She has been there now for 5 days without moving, and no apparent help. do they have mates or is this normal. I can not get any water to her, dispite the fact i can almost touch her, as she is very close to the window.

  • Comment number 7.

    Please, if there is anyone who could let me know what to do about this pidgeon, she has picked a good spot, shaded in the late afternoon, but has the sun on her back from sunrise untill about 4o'clock. i have put some food and water as near as i can, but she has just sat there. she coo's alot, i thought maybe calling for her partner, but no sign of one. All the other nest's of squibs are doing fine. mum and dad have been very busy rebilding up the mud, and this morning i saw 3 heads, gapping maws, and making a hell of a noise. these are the other side of the window to the pidgeon.


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