Fears over soaring energy costs reduce light pollution, Star Count suggests
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 counted||Number||Per cent|
Star Count results compared with previous years:
|Number of stars counted within the constellation of Orion|
|6 > 10||11> 15||16 > 20||21> 25||26> 30||31>|