CPRE star count sheds light on dark skies

Light pollution is denying the serenity of a dark night sky to half of our population while wasted energy is pumped into the atmosphere, according to a new 'star count' study.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) joined forces with the British Astronomical Association's Campaign for Dark Skies to run the event on two separate weeks in January and February.

The project asked people to count the number of stars within the Orion constellation on a clear night, with fewer visible stars indicating higher light pollution at the viewer's vantage point.

In Norfolk, 56 location reports were submitted, with 50pc of people seeing 10 stars or fewer. The worst results were around central Norwich, Costessey and Trowse.

The darkest sky was recorded at Woodton, near Bungay, where the researcher saw 35 stars.

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Although the CPRE's national showed 'no real improvement' in light pollution, about 18pc of Norfolk participants could see between 21 and 30 stars – about twice the national average.

David Hook, light pollution campaign co-ordinator for CPRE Norfolk, said Norfolk was still England's second best county for dark skies, behind Northumberland.

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But he said the continuing rise in housing developments, security lighting and street lamps still risked blurring an important distinction between urban and rural landscapes.

'The general point for Norfolk is that in spite of the good initiatives by the county council in terms of its outdoor lighting policy, things have got worse rather than better,' he said. 'The problem is that although the solutions are there, in some places the factors that drive the creation of too much outdoor light – like population growth, house-building and security lights – are on the increase.

'It is common sense to say we need to reduce our carbon footprint and one of the easiest ways of doing it is to reduce our outdoor lighting. And if enough lights are switched off it could return the countryside to what it should be, with dark skies and dark landscapes.

'It is part of how we define what makes the countryside different to the city, and there's nothing more urbanising than an orange glow in the night sky. Once it is there, the countryside is never the same.'

The CPRE says English councils collectively spent �529 million on street lighting in 2010 which accounted for around 5-10pc of each authority's carbon emissions.

As part of the CPRE's campaign, Mr Hook has negotiated with organisations including Norfolk Property Services and Norfolk County Council on the type and placement of street lights. He has also recently met officers from Norfolk police to discuss security advice given on beating rural crime.

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said: 'Our street lighting team works closely with the CPRE to ensure we are doing what we can to reduce light pollution caused by street lights. This has included replacing old lights, which scattered light everywhere, with flat glass lanterns, which focus the light where it is needed.

'In addition we have moved towards part night lighting in some low crime areas where there are low levels of through traffic, switching off some lights between 1am to 6am during British Summer Time and midnight to 5am the rest of the year. This helps to reduce light pollution, lower CO2 emissions and save taxpayers' money.'

Bob Mizon, Campaign for Dark Skies co-ordinator, says: '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. Many children growing up today will never see the Milky Way; never see the unimaginable glory of billions of visible stars shining above them.'

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