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

Blinded by the lights

The skies above Thanet Earth appear to be ablaze on some nights (pic Steve Geliot)

A vast glasshouse complex in Thanet is one of the greatest sources of light pollution in the country. Steve Geliot has been researching the potential impact on both people and wildlife and suggests that it really should not be too difficult to design structures that are kinder to us all.

In 2001 a movie called The Glass House tanked at the box office and lost a lot of money. Released just days after the 9/11 attacks, you could put this down to being the wrong film at the wrong time, but critics were generally in agreement about its shortcomings. The website Rotten Tomatoes says: “Due to obvious plot twists and foreshadowing, The Glass House fails to thrill. By the end it degenerates into ludicrousness”.

Birchington has what many might call a ludicrous glasshouse story of the literal variety – one that, in terms of environmental credentials, might merit a rotten tomato or two.

In my work as a campaigning artist, I have found myself becoming a citizen scientist using remote sensing from satellites to map and measure light pollution, thanks to some amazing mentoring from Professor Chris Kyba in Potsdam.

The group of glasshouses near Birchington known as Thanet Earth stands out as one of the worst sources of light pollution in the entire country.

Its green-and-blue-branded website states that the site grows tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers – vegetables that one might normally import from the sunnier parts of southern Europe. This could potentially be a good thing since it avoids emissions created by long-distance hauling of produce.

The website boasts that “Britain’s leading glasshouse complex sits proudly within the landscape of East Kent” and adds that “innovation, environmental concern and a focus on quality combine with cutting-edge technology, international expertise and the best growing conditions in the UK to produce unrivalled taste on a commercial scale”.

If we are avoiding all the carbon emissions of shipping produce from Spain, surely these are fair claims?

Well, maybe not. I’m not an expert on hydroponics, so I don’t know what sort of chemical fertilisers or pest and disease controls are used, or if any of these things find their way into the environment. However, as well as having a rough idea of electricity consumption, we can measure the light emissions without putting a foot inside the building.

The units (summed radiance nW/cm2sr) can seem confusing, so let’s make a quick comparison. An area of about 4 sq km in the West End of London, including Leicester Square, emits about 3,600 units and is actually decreasing in brightness by 0.5 per cent a year, owing to small improvements in street-light design. By comparison, the same area at Thanet Earth is emitting about 12,000 units, and this is increasing annually by an average of 12.5 per cent a year. That is three times as bright as central London.

The website accepts Thanet Earth uses some 40,000 lights, each of which is 1,000 watts. Just think about it for a moment: that equates to some 40 million watts of electricity being used.

The Eye Hortilux High Pressure Sodium bulbs used are not efficient and pump out a huge amount of heat. I know because I bought one to test.

The lights at Thanet Earth come on at night but can stay on during the day to supplement daylight – so maybe they are burning for about 17 hours a day during winter.

The website talks about blinds to screen off the light and that unavoidably there are some small gaps; however, when I visited at night and photographed this impressive volcano of light pollution I could see no evidence of such blinds. There was some ragged black plastic mesh on the sides of the glasshouses, but a vast amount of light and heat was bouncing straight up into the sky without any effective measure to contain it.

If we are going to take any environmental claims seriously, we need to see some comparative figures for the emissions involved in transporting tomatoes from Spain against the emissions, including light emissions, from these glasshouses. Only then can we assess what is going on from a net-zero perspective.

Why does it matter? Well, the climate-busting use of electricity is obvious, but science is showing that artificial light at night is driving insect declines, impacting on bird migrations, and evidence is growing about the ways in which light pollution impacts human health.

Artificial light increases obesity rates and drives anxiety and depression, especially in teenagers. That is why the screen colour of iPhones changes in the evening. These well-researched harms to your health are known and manufacturers don’t want to be sued.

Chronic exposure to artificial light at night also makes it a little more likely that pre-cancerous cells in breast tissue change and become active cancer. If you already have breast cancer and are on a drug called Tamoxifen, then that drip-drip chronic exposure to artificial light at night makes the Tamoxifen less effective and reduces the chances of recovery.

Artificial light at night and poor sleep are also implicated more generally in inflammatory illnesses, while there is growing evidence about its role in thyroid cancer.

The light pollution from Thanet Earth blights much of the east Kent night sky (pic Steve Geliot)

We can take a more detailed look at how light pollution affects birds. I have been filming the iconic starling murmuration here in Brighton for the last eight years and as part of that have been learning about the science of how and why these dazzling birds do it.

I have also investigated the causes of the dramatic declines that have brought our Brighton murmuration from 100,000 birds in the 1960s to 10,000 last year and just 6,500 this year. The main cause is thought to be insect declines, meaning the starlings don’t have as much to eat.

These insect declines are caused primarily by pesticides, but light pollution also plays a significant role in driving insect decline. Maybe there is even more to consider. Our dwindling UK starling flocks consist of birds that live here year-round that are joined in autumn by many hundreds of thousands that migrate to the UK from areas of north-east Europe with cold winters.

These migrations across the North Sea between The Netherlands and Norfolk take place at night. The Dutch and Belgian coasts are the brightest part of Europe due to the hundreds of greenhouses just like Thanet Earth. This light pollution, mainly from the area known as Westland, close to Rotterdam, is six times as bright as that in New York.

To navigate at night, starlings, as well as many other birds, use a sense called magneto-reception, meaning they can literally see Earth’s magnetic field. However, it is quite a subtle sense and seriously disrupted by light in the yellow to red part of the spectrum, which is exactly what is emitted by these huge greenhouses.

Starling mortality appears to be occurring mainly in juveniles failing to make it past their first year. Juveniles have not yet established or learned their migration route, so their first journey is an epic challenge. Their magneto-reception is only just forming and is probably weaker and more vulnerable to this kind of sensory pollution. My theory, and it is only a theory that has yet to be researched, is that some losses might be explained by juvenile birds not successfully navigating their first migration past that huge wall of light on the Dutch coast.

Brightly-lit glasshouses in the UK will probably also be problematic for bird navigation.

If you mess with the natural day-night arrangement to the extent that is happening at Thanet Earth, and on an even larger scale in Westland, you are not really a friend to wildlife and it is questionable whether you are a friend to the wider community.

If we take a forensic look at the cost of these huge, arguably badly-designed glasshouses in terms of climate, in terms of wildlife and in terms of human health, we can only conclude that, in this instance at least, modern farming degenerates into ludicrousness.

Environmentally speaking, I believe these really are rotten tomatoes. It is frustrating because it is simply a matter of design. We have world-class glass manufacturers in the UK, so surely it would be possible to develop a world-class design for a glasshouse that allows light in but doesn’t allow light out.

‘When I visited at night and photographed this impressive volcano of light pollution I could see no evidence of such blinds’ (pic Steve Geliot)

Tuesday, May 10, 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

Be a part of Star Count 2022: it’s almost with us!

For two weeks in February and March 2022, we’re again asking for your help in looking up at the heavens. Can you help us by counting stars to measure our dark skies?
We think that dark and starry skies are a special part of our countryside. Nothing beats looking upwards to see velvety blackness, with twinkling constellations as far as the eye can see.
Our buildings and roads emit light, though, and this can affect our view of truly dark skies. We want to make sure that we can all enjoy starlit nights and we need your help in measuring what effect light is having on our views of the galaxy.

What is Star Count?
The best way to see how many stars we can all see in the sky is… to count them! So we’re asking people from all across the country to become ‘citizen scientists’ and look heavenwards for one night. Join in by choosing a clear night between Saturday, February 26, and Sunday, March 6, and becoming a stargazer. Pop the dates in your diary now!
With brilliant support from the British Astronomical Association, we’re asking you to look up at the constellation Orion and let us know how many stars you can count. Don’t worry: we’ll give plenty of support on how to do this. Once you’ve done your star-spotting, we’ll share a form with you where you can quickly and easily send us your count – and then we get busy with our number-crunching.
Your results from Star Count will help us make a map of where star-spotters are enjoying deep, dark 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.
Better still, Star Count is also a great way to switch off from the distractions of daily life and reconnect with nature. Look up at the cosmos and… breathe.

How to take part in Star Count
Here are a few top tips for a brilliant Star Count evening:

  1. Try to pick a clear night for your count, with no haze or clouds, then wait until after 7pm so the sky is really dark.
  2. Looking south into the night sky, find the Orion constellation, with its four corners and ‘three-star belt’.
  3. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness for as long as possible (we recommend at least 20 minutes), then count the stars that you can see within the four corners of Orion (check out the picture above, which shows you how).
  4. Make a note of the number of stars seen with the naked eye and submit your count on our website when the results page opens that week.
  5. Share your experiences (and any photos) with others on social media using #StarCount
  6. And don’t forget to check back to see the national results and how your area compares to the rest of the country!

Get ready to count!
Remember, you can do your 2022 Star Count on any night between February 26 and March 6. Make a note of the dates now and keep your eyes peeled for weather forecasts nearer the time to pick a night with skies that are as clear as possible.

Sign up now to take part and for more information about Star Count, including top tips for the best times to see Orion and more information about why we care so much about our magical dark sky views.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE PART

And in the meantime, you can read about the surprising results of our 2021 Star Count and get the stargazing bug with our beginner’s guide to stargazing and our list of the top dark sky spots in England.
And in the meantime, you can read about the surprising results of our 2021 Star Count and get the stargazing bug with our beginner’s guide to stargazing and our list of the top dark sky spots in England.

Monday, February 21, 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

Watch The One Show on BBC tonight and enjoy a feature on Star Count

Star Count 2021 launched on Saturday and hundreds of people have already taken part.
The week-long event, organised by CPRE, the countryside charity, and the British Astronomical Association, has received widespread coverage on TV and radio and in the written media.
And now we can announce that Star Count will be featured on The One Show tonight.
Tune into BBC One from 7pm-7.30pm and you can see CPRE’s Emma Marrington beaming into the studio live and telling the nation about all things stargazing.
If you’re not already involved in Star Count, don’t worry as there’s still time! Simply sign up here, wait for a clear night, step outside and help us map the night sky.

  • To learn more about Star Count and a related video we have produced for you, click here

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

All ready for Star Count? We have a video for you to enjoy

As hopefully many of you will know, CPRE, the countryside charity, is encouraging as many of us as possible to take part in this year’s Star Count from home.
The clock is ticking and this fabulous event runs from tomorrow (Saturday, February 6) to Sunday, February 14. All you have to do is choose a clear night, look skywards and see how many stars we can spot within Orion.
And now we can offer you a video showing how to go about it! In truth, it’s not a difficult process anyway, but this is a fun feature and should sort out anything you’re not sure about. To view the video, visit the CPRE Kent Facebook page here
Seeing dark skies full of stars is something denied to far too many people. Previous Star Count results have demonstrated that light pollution is making starry skies a rarity in many parts of the country.
However, using these 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.
Star Count is fun and it serves a fabulous purpose in helping protect one of the greatest wonders of our world: a dark sky glittering with stars. Come on, you know you want to!

  • To take part in Star Count, click here

Friday, February 5, 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

Be a star… and join this year’s Star Count

This year’s Star Count is being held next month.
From Saturday, February 6, to Sunday, February 14, CPRE, the countryside charity, is asking citizen scientists – that’s all of us! – to choose a clear night, look to the skies and see how many stars we can spot within Orion.
If you don’t know where Orion is, we will be offering a guiding hand between now and Star Count. We’ll keep you posted!
It’s a fantastic, easy piece of stargazing for children and adults alike – no telescopes are required – and can be done safely from your garden, balcony or bedroom window.
We are holding this event as star-filled skies provide one of the most magical sights our natural world has to offer. We want to reconnect people across the country with the wonder of a truly dark sky.
CPRE research shows light pollution is leaving fewer stars than ever visible to the naked eye – and we need your help to track how light levels are changing.
We will keep you informed throughout, but the first thing we’d like you to do is register your interest in Star Count 2021. You can do that here
We’ll catch up soon. Until then, keep safe.
To read about last year’s Star Count, click here

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Our stolen night skies

The orange mushroom cloud of Thanet Earth blights much of the east Kent night sky (pic Craig Solly)

Light pollution is an acknowledged blight on both the rural and the urban environment, but perhaps less known is its detrimental effect on wildlife and even our own health. Vicky Ellis investigates.

We humans seem preconditioned to take rather than give back – perhaps nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to nature and our dark skies.
Dark skies are more than just pretty stars in the sky or moonlit trees on a clear night. As romantic as that sounds, the darkness we inexplicably try so hard to flood out is vital for not just our health and well-being but also the health and well-being of flora and fauna.
As more and more housing is built, along with ancillary infrastructure, the more street lighting, outside lighting, security lighting and garden lighting goes up, with little or no regard for the damage caused to our ecosystems that rely on darkness for their very survival.
Why are dark nights so fundamental? This article hopefully goes some way to explaining how important dark nights are and why they should be protected, embraced and treasured.
The night sky with its wondrous stars and moon are part of our heritage. It belongs to no one and everyone at the same time. There is not one person alive who has right over our night sky and not one person who has the right to rob the joys of the night sky from anyone else. It should be our fundamental right to see, enjoy and benefit from the darkness and the tranquillity it generates.

Health

Over billions of years, life on Earth has evolved to rely on the rhythmic cycle of night and day to govern our physiology. It’s part of nature’s DNA and therefore part of our DNA. Science is now uncovering the deadly effect light pollution has on our flora and fauna, from birds, amphibians, mammals, insects and plants to our own health and well-being.
The process behind these circadian rhythms is initiated by photons signalling via the retina a tiny part of the brain responsible for the secretion of melatonin.
Melatonin begins to increase at dusk and peaks around midnight, relinquishing a cascade of chemical signals responsible for the regulation of sleep and wake cycles, body temperature, metabolism and appetite.
Leptin is one of these hormones. Sometimes referred to as the ‘hunger hormone’, it is released primarily from fat cells and ironically contributes to the regulation of body weight, curbing appetite while we sleep. According to epidemiologist Dr Richard Stevens from the University of Connecticut, who has studied links between ALAN (artificial light at night) and human health, one theory as to why it’s important our appetite is suppressed during the night is because ‘back in the day’ foraging for food when it’s dark would have been a high-risk strategy resulting in the likelihood of us becoming food.
All ALAN, be it computer screens, streetlights shining through windows or indoor and outside lights, interfere with circadian rhythms to varying degrees by interrupting regulation of melatonin. Obesity is one consequence among many and is linked to low levels of leptin.
Other studies have found a strong correlation between low melatonin levels and disrupted circadian cycles with heart disease, diabetes, depression and cancer – particularly breast cancer.
Further studies implicate ALAN as having a negative psychological impact on health. On the other hand, Dacher Keltner, a psychologist from the University of California, claims that observing stars rotating gently above our heads creates a feeling of awe and amazement that can elicit a sense of positivity.

Blinded by the light: this illumination on a retirement estate near Faversham can be seen for miles around (pic Vicky Ellis)

Ecology

Nocturnal animals, which sleep during the day and come out at night, have their natural rhythm drastically disrupted when their night-time environment is destroyed by ALAN. Predators use light to hunt, while prey species utilise darkness to stay safe and other fauna use night-time features to navigate. When affecting ecology, ALAN is sometimes referred to as ‘ecological light pollution’ and can affect nature down to the tiniest organism. Spiders, for instance, will seek out light sources to spin their webs as insects are attracted to the light, so it makes sense to exploit this to their advantage. The same can be said of bats feeding on moths.
However, this disruption in predator-prey balance can result in crashes in prey populations, as we are witnessing now with insects, especially flying insects. While it is unlikely that ALAN is the sole driver of our insect population crash, it is a contributing factor.
ALAN is just one more avoidable man-made negative that affects nature’s natural balance. Nocturnal insects such as moths navigate at night. ALAN can severely inhibit this ability to navigate, interfering with reproductive success. Artificial light sends moths into a frenzy around the light source, which often results in them either being picked off by predators or dying from exhaustion. Flowers that bloom at night rely on moths for pollination. If there is no other night-time pollinator not affected by light pollution, the plant will be unable to reproduce, drastically altering the local ecosystem with sometimes disastrous consequences.
Many will have heard birds singing at night in an illuminated tree, something that makes us feel uncomfortable because we know it is not right.
Other fauna negatively affected include frogs that use a light-dependent compass to find their way at night, using this light to find their way to breeding ponds. Studies have shown ALAN to also cause developmental deformities such as retinal damage, impeded juvenile development, premature metamorphosis, reduced sperm production and genetic mutation.
Frogs croak at night under cover of darkness during their mating season. ALAN can disrupt this, interfering in successful reproduction and negatively affecting population numbers.
Light and glare from ALAN can have a devastating effect on wetlands, home to amphibians such as frogs and toads and migratory birds. Migratory birds often navigate at night using the moon and stars. ALAN can trick these birds into deviating from their migratory routes, sometimes with fatal consequences. Irresponsibly-lit tall buildings in cities around the world draw these doomed birds, which then collide with them.
Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) in America states that brightly-lit tower blocks in Toronto could be responsible for tens of thousands of bird fatalities a year.
The volume of flora and fauna negatively affected by ALAN is so far-reaching that it would be impossible to list each species, but they range across the spectrum to include such animals as turtle hatchlings, some of which turn the wrong way at night. Instead of heading for the moonlit ocean, tragically they are drawn to the bright lights of towns and roads.

Whether in town or country, many can’t escape the light pollution of Thanet Earth (pic Craig Solly)

Crime and safety

We often hear people panic at the mere suggestion streetlights are turned off after hours, citing safety as a primary reason. Others are that streetlights make people ‘feel’ safer and that the accident rate might increase ‘tenfold’ if street lighting is removed, either in towns or on dual carriageways, and crime rates will soar. It may come as a surprise, but these perceptions are not backed by science or fact, and in some cases, it is quite the opposite: street lighting can do more harm than good when it comes to crime and safety.
Many people reside in the countryside with no street lighting for miles and manage to survive quite adequately, avoiding being run over, burgled or attacked, while cars do not suddenly lose control when no streetlight is on.
A number of studies make the same findings, but two major papers draw similar conclusions:
The first study found, in summary, the following results:

  • Switch-off (permanently turning off streetlights) was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions or crime
  • Part-night lighting (for example streetlights switched off between midnight and 6am) was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions or crime
  • Replacing conventional yellow lighting with white light was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions and was associated with a reduction in crime, though estimates were imprecise
  • Dimming of conventional yellow light or white light was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions and was associated with a reduction in crime, though estimates were imprecise

It concluded that turning off streetlights resulted in “little evidence of harmful effects… on road collisions or crime in England and Wales” and “found no evidence for an increase in collisions where street lighting was reduced at night”.
The second study of reviewed literature concluded: “In the light of these findings it can be considered highly unlikely that the Cambridgeshire part-night lighting scheme will cause an increase in crime.”
What are the figures for rural crime, where few or no streetlights occur, as opposed to towns, often heavily peppered with streetlights?
According to statistics from the Office for National Statistics 2018-19 crime and justice bulletin, the rate of violence against any one individual was 20.2 per 1,000 population in mainly rural areas compared with 29.5 per 1,000 population in mainly urban areas.
For sexual offences the rural figure was 2.2 per 1,000 against 2.8 per 1,000 urban areas and the rate for recorded crime was also lower in rural areas than urban areas, for example robbery, domestic burglary and vehicle offences. The figures here were 4.3 per 1,000 population (rural) versus 9.5 per 1,000 in urban areas.
There is of course more reason for these figures than just a lack of streetlighting in rural areas, but these figures may tell us that streetlighting does not seem to have any influence on keeping people safe at night.

Pollution

It has been found that ALAN can increase atmospheric pollution negatively, affecting the air we breathe. A recent study presented by Harald Stark from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that ALAN destroyed nitrate radicals and in so doing prevented the natural night-time reduction of atmospheric smog produced by fumes generated from cars and factories.
Every night the nitrate radical NO3, which is destroyed by sunlight, builds up during the night, neutralising some of the nitrogen oxides (NOx), which pollute the air during daylight hours, leading to increased levels of ozone (O3), which can cause breathing difficulties.
Further research, cited by Kelly Beatty in her article Night Lights Worsen Smog, claims to show that this clean-up is inhibited due to nitrate radicals being destroyed by vertical night-time light-glow spillage emanating from outside lighting on the ground.
Astronomers who study the night sky are particularly sensitive to even the lowest levels of light pollution. Indeed, skyglow can destroy their chances of studying the night sky completely.

… and this is what we’re missing (pic Bob Mizon)

How can we reduce the impact of ALAN?

Of course, the one preferred default is no light at all. However, the type of bulb you use can have a huge impact on how many insects are attracted, especially winged insects.
It is recommended that we use warm-coloured LED bulbs for outside lighting and avoid white LED sources. A study by Michael Justin from the University of North Carolina found incandescent light bulbs were attracted the highest number of insects, followed by CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps), halogen globes and cool-coloured (such as blue) LEDs.
The second-best light was the ‘bug light’ and surprisingly the winner, with the fewest insects attracted, was the warm LED bulb.
We can use light fittings that angle the light down where it is needed and do not allow the light to flood out across fields and into the night sky. As pretty as that lantern is, it’s not night-friendly. Further, lighting need be kept on only when necessary – we can turn it off once in bed or when our visitors have left. These are only small gestures in the great scheme of things, but if everyone did this it would collectively make a huge difference. Who knows, we might even get back our night sky and nature can begin to slowly mend.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

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

Be a star… get out and count the stars

CPRE’s Star Count… a highlight of the year for many

This week, CPRE, the countryside charity, is inviting everyone to join in with Star Count 2020, a fun and easy way to enjoy the wonders of the universe.
By simply counting the number of stars they can see in the Orion constellation up until Friday, February 28, those taking part will help map the best and worst places to see the awesome sight of a star-filled night sky.
Throughout history, people have gazed up at the magical starry night sky in wonder and used the cosmos to navigate. Looking at the stars we get a feeling of tranquillity rarely experienced in today’s frantic lives.
Seeing dark skies full of stars is something we associate with the countryside, and part of reconnecting with the natural world. However, places to view these spellbinding sights are becoming harder to find, even in the countryside.
Last year’s Star Count results showed that light pollution, often caused by the glow and glare from street and outdoor household and sports lighting, is making beautiful starry skies a rare sight for many of us.
Just 2 per cent of people who took part in Star Count 2019 told us they were viewing a truly dark sky.
Emma Marrington, CPRE’s starry skies expert, said: “A starry night sky is one of the most magical sights the countryside can offer, connecting people to such an important part of our natural heritage. But many people don’t get to experience this beauty due to light pollution. We want to get people out counting the stars and helping to save them now and for future generations to enjoy!”
As well as preventing us from seeing the stars and wonders of our Milky Way galaxy, the Northern Lights and meteors (shooting stars), light pollution has serious impacts. It disrupts the natural behaviour of wildlife and can be harmful for our health. It’s also a waste of energy at a time when many people are trying to live more sustainably.
Using the results from the annual Star Count, CPRE will lobby the government and local authorities to tackle light pollution and also highlight which ‘dark sky’ areas need to be protected and enhanced by strong policies.
CPRE’s Star Count is supported by the British Astronomical Association’s Commission for Dark Skies (CfDS).
Expert astronomer Bob Mizon from the CfDS said: “As well as being a wonderful opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy the night sky, Star Count is starting to give us some really useful information. We’re hoping many more people will join in this year and give us the best map ever.”
To take part, star counters are asked to choose a clear night this week.
Without using a telescope of binoculars, people can then count the stars within the rectangle shape formed by Orion, except the four stars on the outer corners, then submit their results at cpre.org.uk/starcount

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Star Count attracts thousands as problem of light pollution shines bright

A record 2,300 people took part in this year’s Star Count.
The count, held over the first three weeks of February, revealed that just 2% of participants experienced the wonders of a truly dark sky full of stars, due to the impact of light pollution caused by street lighting and other artificial lights, even in the countryside.
CPRE is calling for action to tackle light pollution and enable more people to enjoy the beauty of a starry sky.
The cosmic census, which was supported by the British Astronomical Association, aimed to promote dark skies and engage people in the wonders of stargazing. Star-spotters submitted the number of stars they could see within the constellation of Orion and the results used to create an interactive map displaying people’s view of the night sky. But it also demonstrated the impact that light pollution is having on people’s view of the stars.
Well over half of all participants (57%) failed to see more than 10 stars, meaning they are severely impacted by light pollution. In contrast, only 9% of people experienced ‘dark skies’, counting between 21 and 30 stars, while just 2% experienced ‘truly dark skies’ and were able to count more than 30 stars – half the proportion of people able to do so during the previous Star Count, in 2014.
CPRE suggests the results show we can do more to combat light pollution. Given its detrimental impact – not just on people’s view of the night sky but also the behaviour of nature and wildlife, as well as human health – we are urging the government, local councils and general public to do more to limit the impact of artificial light from streets and buildings.
Emma Marrington, dark skies campaigner at CPRE, said: “We’re hugely grateful to the many people who took the time to get out and take part in our Star Count. But it’s deeply disappointing that the vast majority were unable to experience the natural wonder of a truly dark sky, blanketed with stars. Without intervention, our night sky will continue to be lost under a veil of artificial light, to the detriment of our own health, and the health of the natural world.
“The Star Count results show just how far-reaching the glow from streetlights and buildings can be seen. Light doesn’t respect boundaries, and careless use can see it spread for miles from towns, cities, businesses and motorways, resulting in the loss of one of the countryside’s most magical sights – a dark, starry night sky.
“By using well-designed lighting only when and where it is needed, investing in street light dimming schemes and considering part-night lighting – which should of course be done in consultation with the local community and police – councils have a fantastic opportunity to limit the damage caused by light pollution, reduce carbon emissions and save money.”

  • See the interactive map showing people’s view of the night sky here

Wednesday, August 9, 2019