UK’s night skies still blighted by light pollution

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The UK’s night skies are still “saturated” with light pollution, campaigners warned yesterday after a survey suggested half the population cannot see many stars.

The latest annual star count survey by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the Campaign for Dark Skies (CfDS) showed 53 per cent of those taking part this year could only see 10 stars or fewer by the naked eye within the major constellation of Orion.

Fewer than one in 10 (9 per cent) could see between 21 and 30 stars within the constellation and just 2 per cent had really dark skies above them and were able to see 31 or more stars on a clear night during the survey conducted at the end of January.

The number of people living with severe light pollution had decreased only very slightly from 54 per cent in 2011, the survey found, and campaigners are warning that despite action to reduce light pollution in some areas, the problem remains largely unchecked.

They said that in 2010, local authorities collectively spent more than half a billion pounds (£529m) on street lighting, accounting for 5 per cent to 10 per cent of each council’s carbon emissions.

A number of councils have tested out schemes to switch off or dim street lights when and where they are not needed, for example in the early hours of the morning, although the trials have often proved controversial with residents.

Emma Marrington, rural policy campaigner at CPRE, said: “Of course we need the right, well-designed lighting in the right places – and some areas need to be lit for safety reasons – but there should not be a blanket assumption that glaring lights are needed.”

And she warned: “When we saturate the night sky with unnecessary light, it damages the character of the countryside and blurs the distinction between town and country.

“But this isn’t just about a spectacular view of stars; light pollution can also disrupt wildlife and affect people’s sleeping patterns.”

Bob Mizon of the CfDS said: “Light pollution is a disaster for anyone trying to study the stars. It’s like a veil of light is being drawn across the night sky, denying many people the beauty of a truly starry night.”

A spokesman from the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “New national planning rules provide strong protection against light pollution.

“The national planning framework makes clear that councils should limit the impact of light pollution from artificial light when making planning decisions.”