Fears over soaring energy costs reduce light pollution, Star Count suggests

More than 2,500 people took part in this year’s annual Star Count

A significant reduction in severe light pollution levels, first recorded during lockdown last year, has continued, according to the results of a nationwide star count.
Despite lockdown being well and truly behind us, there does not appear to have been a corresponding increase in light levels from outdoor and street lighting.
The ‘lockdown legacy’ of working from home and rising energy prices has created an opportunity to permanently improve our view of the night sky, says CPRE, the countryside charity.
Office-based organisations switching to permanent home working, coupled with employers’ desire to reduce electricity bills, appear to have led to fewer lights being left on overnight.
This, alongside households being more conscious about wasting energy and councils reducing street lighting and switching to better lighting design, are believed to be behind the continued reduction in light pollution.
More than 2,500 people took part in the annual Star Count, the country’s biggest citizen science project of its kind, between February 26 and March 6. Participants were asked to report the number of stars they could see in the Orion constellation.
The results show severe light pollution, defined as being able to see 10 or fewer stars with the naked eye, has continued to fall. After peaking in 2020, when 61 per cent of participants reported seeing 10 stars or less, severe light pollution fell to 51 per cent in 2021 and continued its slide this year, to 49 per cent.
Emma Marrington, CPRE’s dark skies campaigner, said: “Half of the people who took part in Star Count experienced severe light pollution that obscures their view of the night sky. This is bad for wildlife and human health – and the energy being needlessly wasted is bad financially and bad for our planet.
“But the good news is that these results show small adaptations can make a big difference. If there is a silver lining from the legacy of lockdown and now the soaring cost of energy, it is that it has never been clearer how simple it is to cut carbon emissions and energy bills while improving our natural environment.”
A clear view of a star-filled night sky has a hugely beneficial effect on our mental health and, like access to other forms of nature, helps reduce stress and increase a sense of peace and well-being.
Research has even shown that regularly spending time looking at the stars can lower blood pressure and reduce depression. Yet the night sky, which is a hugely significant part of our natural environment, has no legal protection.
Turning off garden lights when not needed, dimming street lights and reducing office lighting could permanently reduce carbon emissions and cut energy bills while improving the natural environment for wildlife and human health.
Other solutions that could reduce both light pollution and energy use include councils investing in well-designed lighting, used only where and when needed. They can also adopt policies in Local Plans to reduce light pollution and protect and enhance existing dark skies in their areas.
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “The night sky is one half of our experience of nature, but we don’t often think of it like that. In and of itself, it helps balance our mental health and boost our emotional well-being. Recollect that experience of a starry sky and you instinctively know it soothed you.
“But our view of the night sky – and all the benefits it undoubtedly brings – is being blotted out by light pollution. Like all forms of pollution, it is damaging our mental and physical health, and also having a severe impact on wildlife. Yet it is a form of pollution that is allowed to increase year on year without any effort being made to control the damage it is causing.”
Forty-nine per cent saw 10 or fewer stars compared with 51 per cent last year. This is the lowest percentage of people reporting 10 or fewer, indicating the most severe light pollution. This could be due to the continued effect of lockdown and changing behaviours such as hybrid working or less ambient light.
Three per cent saw more than 30 stars, compared with 5 per cent last year. That’s a reduction of 2 per cent since the last Star Count in 2021 of people who report experiencing truly dark skies.

Results for Star Count 2022

Stars countedNumberPer cent
0>528311.1
6>1095837.6
11>1566326.0
16>2031112.2
21>251636.4
26>30943.7
>30783.1
   
TOTAL2,550100

Star Count results compared with previous years (number of stars counted within the constellation of Orion):

  
Year0 >56 > 1011> 1516 > 2021> 2526> 3031>  
200714%40%24%12%6%2%2%100%
201116%43%22%11%5%2%1%100%
201214%39%23%13%6%3%2%100%
201317%37%22%10%6%3%5%100%
201419%39%21%9%5%3%4%100%
201915%42%22%11%7%2%2%100%
202018%43%22%9%4%1%3%100%
202112%40%24%12%6%2%5%100%
202211%38%26%12%6%4%3%100%

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Turn your lights out for Swanscombe… and join us on Saturday (March 5) to count the stars

Star Count began on Saturday (February 26) and there’s plenty for us all to get involved in over the next week or so.
This year, we’re putting a particular focus on north Kent’s Swanscombe peninsula, a site home to a fantastic range of wildlife but threatened by plans for the London Resort theme park.
As part of the campaign to save the peninsula from development, we aim to count the stars on-site and more broadly in the local area to demonstrate how much of a dark oasis the peninsula is – and how its wildlife could be affected by the blinding lights of a theme park.
Together with our friends at Save Swanscombe Peninsula, we are asking people in the area from tomorrow (Tuesday, March 1) to get involved by turning off their lights and turning up the stars.
This involves:

  • Choosing a clear night
  • Counting how many stars you can see within the constellation of Orion
  • Sharing your photos on our social-media pages with the hashtag #starcount

If you don’t know where Orion is, you can download a free CPRE Star Count family activity pack, which includes a checklist and star-finder template, here
Finally, we can all meet up in person for our Dark Skies Event on Saturday, March 5, when we will be gathering on the peninsula at 5.30pm to experience the magic of the stars, count them and just enjoy the beauty of the site.
To sign up to the Swanscombe Star Count use the QR code on the poster below or click here

To join us for our Dark Skies Event at Botany Marshes, Northfleet, Swanscombe DA10 0PP, on March 5, phone 01233 714540 or email info@cprekent.org.uk for more information. Also check out the poster at the top of this story.
If you would like to come along, please print off, read and sign the risk assessment form here If you are unable to do that, we will have forms at the event itself.
CPRE Kent and Save Swanscombe Peninsula are also working with Buglife, the RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust in a combined effort to protect this wonderful site. To keep in touch with what we’re all doing, visit the CPRE Kent website

You can also follow us on Facebook:

@Save Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI

@CPREKent

… and on Twitter:

@sspcampaign

@CPREKent

@Buzz_dont_tweet (Buglife)

@KentWildlife (Kent Wildlife Trust)

@Natures_Voice (RSPB)

Monday, February 28, 2022

Public asked to become citizen scientists in annual Star Count to map light pollution in our skies

People are being asked to take part in the annual Star Count to record how clear our view is of the night sky. CPRE, the countryside charity, is working with the British Astronomical Association’s Commission for Dark Skies to map light pollution levels across the country.
In the biggest citizen science project of its kind – which began on Saturday (February 26) and runs until Sunday, March 6 – people are being asked to count the number of stars they see in the Orion constellation to help map the best and worst places in the UK to enjoy a star-filled night sky.
The results will be compared with 2021’s findings, gathered during lockdown, which revealed a notable drop in the number of people experiencing severe light pollution given urban areas were much quieter and fewer large buildings were in use.
A clear view of a star-filled night sky has a hugely beneficial effect on our mental health and, like access to other forms of nature, helps reduce stress and increase a sense of peace and well-being. Research has even shown that regularly spending time looking at the stars can lower blood pressure and reduce depression. Yet, the night sky, which is a hugely significant part of our natural environment, has no legal protection.
Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “The night sky is one half of our experience of nature, but we don’t often think of it like that. In and of itself, it helps balance our mental health and boost our emotional well-being. Recollect that experience of a starry sky and you instinctively know it soothed you.
“But our view of the night sky – and all the benefits it undoubtedly brings – is being blotted out by light pollution. Like all forms of pollution, it is damaging our mental and physical health and also having a severe impact on wildlife. Yet it is a form of pollution that is allowed to increase year on year without any effort being made to control the damage it is causing.”
In 2021, more than 7,000 people took part in CPRE’s Star Count. The proportion of people reporting ‘severe light pollution’, defined as 10 stars or fewer being visible to the naked eye in the Orion constellation, had declined from 61 per cent to 51 per cent. The proportion of ‘truly dark skies’, defined as more than 30 stars being visible within the Orion constellation, had increased from 3 per cent to 5 per cent. This was likely due to the count taking place during lockdown, with reduced levels of artificial light leading to a clearer view of the night sky.
Now people are being urged to once again come together for one of the nation’s biggest citizen science projects to help discover if light pollution has increased since the end of lockdown – and where the best views of the stars can be found.
Emma Marrington, dark skies campaigner from CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “We need your help to find out if light pollution has increased over the past year and if more people are experiencing darker night skies. The results from Star Count will help us create a map of where star-spotters are enjoying deep, dark star-filled skies. By showing on a map where light pollution is most serious, we can work with local councils and others to decide what to do about it.
“Star Count is a great way to switch off from the distractions of daily life and reconnect with nature – and by taking part as a citizen scientist, you can help us protect and improve everyone’s view of a clear, sparkling night sky.”
Light pollution means many people only experience a limited view of the night sky, while it also disrupts wildlife’s natural patterns. By showing where views are most affected by light pollution, the evidence can be used to help protect and enhance the nation’s dark skies, improving our health, well-being, wildlife and the environment.
Bob Mizon, of the British Astronomical Association’s Commission for Dark Skies, said: “The night sky is a great antidote to the stresses of modern life – you go out, look up and suddenly everything is calm.
“Just as we have an affinity with trees and the rest of nature, we have a connection to the night sky. It is literally 50 per cent of our environment – from east to west – and it is the only part of our environment that has no protection in law.
“People are very rapidly coming to the conclusion that what we do to the environment has a direct impact on our well-being. The same as coral reefs dying off and rivers clogged with plastic bags – one more aspect of our impact on the environment is our pollution of the night sky and yet it is completely unprotected.”

  • For more on Star Count and how to take part, see here

Monday, February 28, 2022

Dramatic reduction in light pollution during lockdown, Star Count reveals

Three times as many people took part in the 2021 Star Count than in previous years

A nationwide Star Count conducted in February has revealed a significant drop in light pollution levels across the UK.
Almost 8,000 counts were submitted from February 6-14 in the annual citizen-science project that asks people to count the number of stars they see in the Orion constellation. 
A total of 51 per cent of people noted 10 or fewer stars, indicating severe light pollution. This compares with 61 per cent during the same period last year.
Thirty or more stars indicates truly dark skies and were seen by 5 per cent of participants – the highest figure since 2013.
Lockdown is the most likely reason for this change, with reduced human activity resulting in quieter-than-usual urban areas. Similar patterns have been found with air pollution, which has also dropped across the country. 
The results have been launched to mark International Dark Skies Week, run by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA), which raises awareness on the impacts of light pollution.  
Light pollution can negatively affect human health and wildlife by disturbing animals’ natural cycles and behaviour. Badly-designed, wasteful light also contributes to climate change and obscures our connection to the universe. 
CPRE, the countryside charity, and IDSA want to combat light pollution through strong local and national policies while also protecting and enhancing existing dark skies. This involves putting the right light in the right places, such as LED lights that only illuminate where we walk and turning off lights in places like office buildings when they’re unoccupied. 
CPRE and IDSA hope this fall in people experiencing the most severe light pollution – an unintended but positive consequence of lockdown – continues long after coronavirus restrictions are lifted so more people can experience the wonder of a truly dark sky.
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, said: “It’s been an absolutely stellar year for Star Count. We had three times as many people taking part compared with previous years and I’m delighted to see severe light pollution appears to have fallen. It’s likely this is an unintended positive consequence of lockdown, as our night-time habits have changed. Let’s hope we can hold on to some of this achievement as we ‘unlock’.
“Looking up at a starry night sky is a magical sight and one we believe everyone should be able to experience, wherever they live. And the great thing is, light pollution is one of the easiest kinds of pollution to reverse – by ensuring well-designed lighting is used only where and when needed, and that there is strong national and local government policy.”
Ruskin Hartley, executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association, said: “We believe that solving the problem of light pollution begins with a realisation that the problem exists. For many people, participating in the Star Count may have been their first direct encounter an unpolluted night sky due to the loss of artificial light. 
“As realisation turns to action, we look forward to working with CPRE to bring attention and resources to turning the tide, and bringing natural night-time darkness back to more of the UK.”

  • To see the interactive map showing results from Star Count 2021, click here

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Tick tock! Time is running out to join Star Count

This year’s Star Count ends on Sunday (February 14).
Although there have been occasional clear spells, the cloud that brought snow to much of Kent this week has made conditions for stargazing far from ideal.
So, if you haven’t yet been able to take part in the count, do pop your head out every so often tonight or over the weekend to see if there’s a chance to tot up the stars you can spot within Orion.
If you don’t know where Orion is, click here
Using results from the annual Star Counts, CPRE lobbies government and local authorities to tackle light pollution and highlight which ‘dark sky’ areas need to be protected and enhanced by strong policies.
The event also increases our own knowledge of the wonderful night sky. In other words, it’s fun!

  • There is still time to join Star Count: click here

Friday, February 12, 2021

Star Count can inspire us in lockdown… and it’s fun

Light pollution is denying too many people the joy of a night sky (pic Craig Solly)

Running out of ideas to keep the family busy during lockdown?
If so, CPRE’s Star Count provides the ideal solution.
Next month – from Saturday, February 6, to Sunday, February 14 – CPRE, the countryside charity, is asking us all to choose a clear night, look skywards and see how many stars we can spot within Orion.
If you don’t know where Orion is, click here
There cannot be many of us who at some point have not gazed up at a starry night sky in wonder. Looking at the stars can give us a feeling of tranquillity that we experience increasingly rarely in the modern world.
Seeing dark skies full of stars is something we associate with the countryside and is part of reconnecting with the natural world. However, places to enjoy such stunning sights are becoming harder to find, even in the countryside. Sadly, previous Star Count results have demonstrated that light pollution is making starry skies a scarce sight for too many of us.
Using these results from the annual Star Counts, CPRE lobbies government and local authorities to tackle light pollution and also highlight which ‘dark sky’ areas need to be protected and enhanced by strong policies.
In short, Star Count is fun and it can help protect one of the greatest wonders of the world: a dark sky glittering with stars.

  • To learn more and join Star Count, click here



Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Thousands join Star Count 2020 to show the value of dark skies

In February, more than 2,400 people across the country took part in a star-counting survey run by CPRE, the countryside charity. By counting the number of stars visible in the constellation of Orion, it helps build up a picture of the nation’s views of the night sky.
CPRE believes that a star-filled night sky is one of the most magical sights of the countryside. And throughout the coronavirus lockdown, gazing up at the stars will have brought comfort to many. Yet light pollution can spread from towns and cities into the countryside, denying many people the chance to experience the wonder and tranquillity of seeing a sky full of stars.
The results of this citizen science survey, carried out annually, suggest that across the UK 61 per cent of people are in areas with severe light pollution, counting fewer than 10 stars. This is a rise of 4 per cent from last year, when 57 per cent of people taking part were in these areas.
Crispin Truman, CPRE chief executive, said: “Gazing up at the heavens can inspire and help lift our spirits, especially when many of us are forced to do so from within our homes at the moment. It is a shame that few of us can see the starry skies in all their glory, without the intrusion of light pollution.”
There was some good news at the other end of the scale, with 3 per cent of people counting more than 30 stars within Orion, meaning they were in areas with truly dark skies. That’s a rise from 2 per cent in 2019.
Families who took part and were able to see plenty of stars on the night of their count reported how much they loved the experience. In addition, 99 per cent of star-counters asked said they believed that every child should be able to experience the wonder of a star-filled night sky.
Bob Mizon from the British Astronomical Association’s Commission for Dark Skies (CfDS) said: “It’s wonderful to hear about families having fun doing the Star Count. Children should be able to see the Milky Way, their own galaxy, by looking up at the sky, not looking online!”
CPRE and CfDS believe that councils have the power to give people better views of the night sky. And, when asked, 82 per cent of star-counters responding to a survey said their local council should do more to tackle light pollution.
Mr Truman added: “We’d like to see councils adopting better policies in local plans to tackle light pollution and protect and enhance our darkest skies, where people can still experience the wonder of a star-filled night sky.
“There are straightforward steps councils can take, in consultation with local people, that don’t just reduce light pollution but save energy and money, too.’

  • See the map with the results of CPRE’s Star Count 2020 here

Friday, May 29, 2020

Count the stars and see how lucky we are (or otherwise)

Light pollution from Thanet Earth… believe it or not, it’s even worse than this now (pic Craig Solly)

Sometimes television or film shows us night skies that are quite simply jaw-dropping. They portray millions of stars, together forming a spectacle that in places turns an otherwise black sky white.
Others might be more fortunate enough to take holidays in places that allow them to be dazzled directly in person.
One thing is certain, though, and that is that such experiences cannot be enjoyed to such a degree in our corner of the world. Partly this is down to geography, but of course the main culprit denying us views of the stars is light pollution.
And light pollution doesn’t get much worse than in east Kent, where the glasshouse complex of Thanet Earth has been recorded as the second-worst offender in the country, only the Tata Steel plant in Rotherham emitting more nocturnal light.
With the expansion of Thanet Earth, the problem has of course worsened, so by now it could potentially be the worst light polluter in the land.
Either way, the extraordinary orange glow over the site can be seen from miles around, most strikingly when there is low cloud. At times, the sky appears to be on fire… this is light pollution on an epic scale.
More generally, CPRE is next month (February) highlighting the issue nationally by bringing back the Star Count.
We are all being asked to count the number of stars we can see with the naked eye within the constellation of Orion, which is only visible in winter.
The national Star Count will take place during the darkest skies from Saturday, February 2, to Saturday, February 23, giving families the chance to join in during half-term, although the darkest skies are predicted for February 2-9. Supported by the British Astronomical Association, the results from Star Count 2019 will help CPRE create a new map showing how light pollution affects the nation’s views of the night sky and raise awareness of light pollution.
This year’s count will be a small trial event, with a view to expanding it into a larger engagement piece next year. You can find out how to take part at www.cpre.org.uk/starcount
Please do join us and encourage your friends and family to do the same – we all love the stars.

  • To see where your nearest dark skies are, see our NightBlight maps here

 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Night blight and dark skies – new maps launched

The most detailed ever satellite maps of England’s light pollution and dark skies, released today (13th June) by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), have shown that Thanet Earth is the second worst light polluter in the country, only second to Tata Steel in Rotherham. [1].

Night sky over Thanet, photo by Kimberley Eve

Night sky over Thanet, photo by Kimberley Eve

Overall, Kent is the 29th darkest county of 41. The maps, produced using satellite images captured at 1.30 am throughout September 2015, show that within Kent, Ashford has the darkest skies, 68th of 326 districts. Ashford Borough Council adopted a specific Dark Skies Policy in 2014 to raise awareness about ways we can minimise light pollution and to raise the profile of dark skies as an environmental asset we are increasingly at threat of losing. [2]

Dartford has Kent’s lightest skies, 260th of the 326 districts, of course this area has major transport networks, including the Dartford Crossing.

Thanet is 241st in the rankings, with 34% of its skies in the lightest categories. Thanet Earth pledged to improve its greenhouse blinds in 2013, yet the light emitted is still severe. [3] [4] Its maximum brightness value is 584.98nanowatts/cm2*sr, brighter than anywhere else in the South East, including London.

Thanet Earth by Craig Solly 1

.

Thanet Earth, photos by Craig Solly

Thanet Earth, photos by Craig Solly

The research comes at a time of increasing awareness of the harmful effects light pollution can have on the health of people and wildlife. That these skies were monitored at 1.30am illustrates just how long into the night England’s lighting spills.

The new maps were produced by Land Use Consultants from data gathered by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in America. The NOAA satellite captured visible and infrared imagery to determine the levels of light spilling up into British skies. CPRE is sending lesson plans to primary schools in order to promote the enjoyment of dark skies.

We are calling on the county’s local authorities to use these maps to identify areas with severe light pollution and target action to reduce it, as well as identifying existing dark skies that need protecting.

 

Stars by Tone Netone

Stars by Tone Netone

Starry night by Ethan Sztular

Starry night by Ethan Sztular

CPRE Kent recommends that:

  • Local authorities follow Ashford’s lead and develop policies to reduce light pollution in their emerging local plans.
    The councils use CPRE’s maps to inform decisions on local planning applications and identify individual facilities that should be asked to dim or switch off unnecessary lights.
  • Local businesses review their current lighting and future development plans to save money by dimming or switching off light to reduce pollution as well as meet their promises over reducing existing pollution (e.g. Thanet Earth).

Hilary Newport, director of CPRE Kent said: “Our view of the stars is obscured by artificial light. Many children may not have seen the Milky Way, our own galaxy, due to the veil of light that spreads across their night skies. It is known that dark skies are beneficial to our wellbeing. Light pollution can disturb our sleep, prevent our enjoyment of the countryside and affect wildlife, by interrupting natural rhythms including migration, reproduction and feeding patterns.
“Councils can reduce light levels through better planning, and with investment in the right street lighting that is used only where and when it is needed.
“Our Night Blight maps also show where people can expect to find a truly dark, starry sky and we hope they will go out and enjoy the wonder of the stars.”

Summary of Kent districts (this information and more is available via the maps):

District Ranking out of 329 % in three darkest sky categories, less than 1 NanoWatts / cm2 / sr
Ashford 68 85
Tunbridge Wells 72 76
Shepway 99 74
Sevenoaks 101 47
Dover 106 66
Canterbury 112 78
Maidstone 116 55
Swale 137 47
Tonbridge and Malling 156 32
Medway 196 12
Gravesham 202 0.3
Thanet 241 8
Dartford 260 0

 

Notes:

[1] CPRE’s interactive maps can be accessed at http://nightblight.cpre.org.uk

Light pollution is a generic term referring to excess artificial light that shines where it is neither wanted nor needed. In broad terms, there are three types of light pollution:

  • skyglow – the pink or orange glow we see for miles around towns and cities, spreading deep into the countryside, caused by a scattering of artificial light by airborne dust and water droplets
  • glare – the uncomfortable brightness of a light source
  • light intrusion – light spilling beyond the boundary of the property on which a light is located, sometimes shining through windows and curtains

[2] http://www.ashford.gov.uk/dark-skies-spd-2014

[3] http://www.thanetearth.com/faqs-growing-using-light.html

[4] http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/skies-Birchington-going-green/story-20253506-detail/story.html

June 13th 2016

Protect our dark skies

We have responded to Kent County Council’s consultation into street lighting.

There are three options proposed:

  • lights off for part of the night
  • all night lighting
  • 30-50% dimmed for part of the night

It is the (already agreed) conversion to LED technology that will make enormous savings. Savings from the different options are quite limited: part night lighting will save £400,000 and dimming £160,000. Dark skies as a benefit is therefore important.

 

Photo by Harriet RH

Photo by Harriet RH

We have said to KCC:

There have been many innovations in street lighting that are allowing KCC to cut energy bills by retrofitting lights with more energy efficient systems. CPRE Kent supports this approach, but encourages a continued reduction in light pollution. The promotion of dark skies improves the tranquillity enjoyed by many parts of the county at night. Dark skies should be a key characteristic of rural areas at night, but of course everyone benefits from better views of the night sky and connection with our natural environment.

Clearly consultation with local communities is important and risks (either perceived or real) associated with road safety and fear of crime may be concerns raised by some individuals and communities. Education and flexibility for emerging policy to respond to concerns may, therefore, be necessary. Of course, the ‘part-night lighting’ service currently in operation has given communities the information/experience necessary to comment and CPRE Kent hopes the feedback from this experience has been positive.

To read more about night blight click here.

December 1st 2015