How many stars can you see in Norfolk skies?
East Anglia's stargazers have been asked to scan the skies in the new year and help a national survey aiming to gauge levels of light pollution.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has joined forces with the British Astronomical Association's Campaign for Dark Skies to run Star Count Week from January 20 to 27.
The project asks people to count the number of stars within the Orion constellation on a clear night, with fewer stars likely to be visible from brightly-lit vantage points.
Previous events in 2007 and 2011 showed the number of people who could see fewer than 10 stars rising from 54pc to 59pc – indicating an increase in the level of light pollution during those four years.
CPRE plans to use the results from the 2012 survey to produce a Star Count map of the country, which will illustrate how these changes are affecting people's views of the night sky. The data will also inform the organisation's work with government officers at Defra to address the problem.
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David Hook, light pollution campaign co-ordinator for CPRE Norfolk, said he hoped the count would prove that light pollution was a 'real and growing problem' in the county.
'Light pollution destroys one of the best views on earth – the wonders of the night sky,' he said. 'It also suburbanises the countryside and in so doing impacts negatively on dark landscapes.
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'Sky-glow paints the night sky red and the sight of sodium lights in rural locations brings the town into the countryside in a very unwelcome manner. You can see the orange glow of Norwich for miles around.
'If you go out in Norfolk and look upwards on a dark night it is one of the most beautiful sights you will ever see. We have some fantastic dark skies and dark landscapes in parts of our county, but these areas are under threat from excessive and badly-lit developments.'
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.
'Whenever there was a theft of something like heating oil there seemed to be a generic response to put up a security light, and I really wanted to get more specific advice where things like the environment and the rural nature of a place came into play,' he said. 'They generally concur with where we are on this subject and said they would alter their generic advice.'
A Norfolk police spokesman said: 'Lighting can assist with security but you should ensure that it is appropriate for the circumstances. Advice on lighting is site specific, and your local Safer Neighbourhood Team or Crime Prevention Officer can give further advice.
'A range of lighting is available, including dusk-to-dawn and sensor-activated lights – dusk-to-dawn lights can have a lower lux which makes them dimmer and less likely to cause irritation to others. We would recommend against unnecessary lighting – in fact, areas which are not overlooked may give an offender light to work in with little chance of being noticed.'