Dark skies

By Emma Marrington 28th May 2020

Hundreds of you took the time to look to the skies in February 2020 and count the visible stars within Orion. We analysed the findings – and here’s what we’ve discovered…

We believe that a velvety dark sky littered with twinkling stars is one of the most magical sights that our countryside can offer. We campaign to keep those skies as dark as possible – and our annual Star Count helps us to track how much light is bleeding out from developments and limiting what stars we can see. So did 2020 bring darker skies with more stars to see – or has light pollution worsened since last year?

What we found: good news and bad

A brilliant 2,400 of you took part, raising your eyes to the skies and counting how many stars you could see within the constellation of Orion. And now, the results of this year’s citizen science survey are in (explore the full map of results here).

The findings show that 61% of people are in areas with severe light pollution – meaning that they could count fewer than ten stars. The bad news is that this is a rise in the number of people experiencing severe light pollution since our 2019 count, when 57% of people taking part fell into that category.

At the other end of the spectrum, though, we also saw a rise in the number of people reporting to us that they could count more than 30 stars within Orion – 3% of people told us this, up 1% from last year.

Heavenly awe

We’re pleased with that small increase in the number of people who fall into the category of having ’truly dark skies’, but we’d like even more of us to have this experience. Marvelling at a starry sky can be so moving, as our chief executive, Crispin Truman, 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.’

And Bob Mizon from the British Astronomical Association’s Commission for Dark Skies (CfDS), with whom we partnered for Star Count, agreed. ‘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 as well as by seeing pictures on their screens!’.’Gazing up at the heavens can inspire and help lift our spirits…’Crispin Truman

Many of our citizen scientists also completed a survey for us and answered the question: ‘do you think every child should be able to experience the wonder of a star-filled night sky?’ – and the answers suggest that we want everyone to enjoy dark skies. A huge 96% of people told us that they agreed with this. So what next?

Action for councils

We believe that councils have powers that can help give people a better view of the night sky, and our participants agreed, with 82% saying they’d like their local council to do more around light pollution. Crispin said:

‘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.’

Why not explore the map showing the results and see what the light pollution levels are like in your area? And if you like looking to the skies, then we have more ideas for places to find dark nights and stargazing tips on our website here.

By Emma Marrington15th January 2019

CPRE has been a leading national voice in championing dark skies for many years. Here’s why we believe it matters so much.

Artificial light doesn’t respect boundaries. It can spread for miles, bleeding out from built-up areas and into the skies over our countryside. This is why we care about this issue; inky, star-strewn skies are one of the things that make our countryside so special, and we’re working to make sure that we can all experience truly dark night skies.

On carbon and conservation

CPRE makes sure that everything we do is informed by the climate emergency, which gives us another reason to take a look at the light emitted by our roads and buildings. The most recent figures suggested that lighting could account for as much as 30% of some councils’ carbon emissions. The more this can be reduced, the better for the environment. Happily, we have a great track record in our work campaigning for dark skies. Since the 1990s we’ve campaigned for policies to reduce light pollution, partnering with others such as the British Astronomical Association, and in 2012 a national planning policy to control lighting was introduced as a result. It confirmed all the reasons we know dark skies are important, including limiting impacts on ‘intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation’. This point about nature is, we think, an essential one. For example, research has suggested that moths, which play an important role in pollinating flowers during their nocturnal activity and have declined in abundance by 40%, might have been disrupted by light pollution – but that this can be alleviated by the use of lower energy lighting or part-time night lighting.

Gathering data

We’re making sure we gather lots of facts and figures so that we can keep making a case for the value of starlit skies. We’ve surveyed 83 councils across England to learn more about their approaches to ensuring dark skies and gave recommendations about how they can do even more.

We’ve also made maps showing areas where the darkest and brightest skies are – why not explore them now on our Night Blight website? We’ve made these freely available and searchable so you can check out your local area and explore the places where you’ll have the best chance of star spotting. And each year we run a Star Count – our citizen science project to see how many stars people can see in the Orion constellation. The 2019 results showed that just 2% of our stargazers reported seeing what’s classed as ‘truly dark skies’ – a drop by half in the number seeing as many stars five years before.

Twinkle twinkle – forever

CPRE believes that the remarkable tranquillity that comes with clear, velvety skies speckled with stars is something really special, and we want to make sure that everyone can experience this. Lighting is of course needed, and we’re advocating for it to be thoughtfully used in the right places and when it’s called for. Our research helps to guide these decisions, and we’re proud of that. We’ll keep moving our vision of deep, dark skies forward, to give us all the best chance of having our breath taken away by a view of the Milky Way, Mars or Orion. And in the meantime? You can find us with our eyes to the heavens.

FOSH © 2020
FRIENDS OF SOUTH HAMS

This Web site is for those who love the South Hams “The jewel in the crown of Devon” and who wish to protect and enhance the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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