Light pollution means vast majority of us can’t enjoy wonder of a properly dark sky, CPRE’s Star Count shows


Too few of us can enjoy dark skies

Light pollution affects the vast majority of the population, with three-quarters of people in the UK finding their view of the night sky obscured, new data has shown.
The results of Star Count 2023, released by CPRE, the countryside charity, find only 5 per cent of people can enjoy the wonder of a truly dark starry sky.
Almost 4,000 people took part in this year’s Star Count, the country’s biggest annual citizen science project of its kind, from February 17-24. Participants were asked to report the number of stars they could see with the naked eye in the Orion constellation.
The results show that, for just over half the population, their view of the night sky remains obscured by severe light pollution. The proportion experiencing ‘truly dark skies’ and ‘very severe light pollution’ – the best and worst categories – both increased by 2 per cent.
In evidence presented last month to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, CPRE recommended that local authorities should have legal powers to control light pollution through planning regulations. Outdoor advertisements are already managed in a similar way. Further to that, key changes to national and local planning policy were identified that, if implemented, should lead to a step-change in reducing light pollution, including policies to protect dark skies and intrinsically dark landscapes.
Tom Fyans, CPRE deputy chief executive, said: “The night sky is becoming increasingly obscured by artificial light. Sadly, this means most people in the UK can’t see many stars at all, especially if they live near a big town or city. Yet it’s a form of pollution that has been allowed to grow for years without any significant effort being made to control the damage it’s causing to people, nature and the environment.
“Local authorities could potentially save hundreds of thousands of pounds each year by not wasting energy on unnecessary lighting. It’s an opportunity begging to be taken. All councils are looking for ways to save money and reduce carbon emissions – by cutting light pollution they’d improve people’s sleep and mood at the same time.
“As anyone who has landed at an airport at night can attest, housing and roads cause the most light pollution. Local authorities and highways authorities are therefore responsible. They can take action by investing in well-designed lighting, that shines where and when needed. Dimming technology; switching off streetlights, if and when they’re unnecessary, in the dead of night; or better-designed directional lighting would make a massive difference.”
There is increasing awareness of the effect that light pollution has on people’s health and well-being. In a previous survey, CPRE found half of respondents said their sleep had been disrupted by light shining in through their bedroom window. More than one in 10 people (14 per cent) have slept in a different room to avoid light pollution and 3 per cent have moved house to get away from light pollution.
Artificial light is known to cause confusion to migrating birds, often with fatal outcomes. It interrupts natural rhythms, including the reproduction, feeding and sleeping patterns of pollinating insects, bats and nocturnal animals. In humans, studies show that exposure to light at night interrupts sleep and can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin, a brain hormone best known for its daily role in resetting the body’s biological clock.
Emma Marrington, landscape enhancement lead at CPRE, said: “‘It’s great that so many people took part in Star Count this year. What is clear is that light pollution continues to affect people’s experience of the night sky. Action is needed now!
“A strong approach is needed by local councils to manage light pollution, by ensuring local planning and street-lighting policies protect dark skies and intrinsically dark landscapes in their areas. We’re also calling for minimum standards to be introduced nationally for the management of external lighting to cut light pollution.
“This would be a hugely important step towards strengthened planning to ensure we get well-designed lighting that is only used when and where it is needed, protecting our existing dark skies for the benefit of current and future generations.”
CPRE is calling for stronger local and national planning policy to combat light pollution. The National Planning Policy Framework, where these policies are decided, is currently under review. Now is the time for the government to act.