Is there too much light pollution in Norfolk? Countryside charity CPRE Norfolk begins survey to find out

The Milky Way over Happisburgh lighthouse. Picture by Andy Smith - Twitter: @ajsuk0

The Milky Way over Happisburgh lighthouse. Picture by Andy Smith - Twitter: @ajsuk0 - Credit: Andrew Smith

The effects of light pollution in Norfolk is being surveyed, with hundreds of parish and town councils being quizzed on the issue – thanks to a National Lottery grant.

Norwich astronomer Mark Thompson. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Norwich astronomer Mark Thompson. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Countryside charity CPRE Norfolk has begun its wide-ranging survey, after it was given almost £10,000 from the National Lottery's Awards for All for a year-long project.

The charity, which has campaigned for more than a decade about light pollution, has written to hundreds of parish and town councils as part of its research into its effects.

David Hook, CPRE Norfolk's light pollution co-ordinator said: 'Norfolk is the second darkest county in England and our dark skies are prized by astronomers and those who value rural tranquillity, but light pollution is an increasing problem, both in towns and in the countryside.

'This is partly due to increased urbanisation, but also to misplaced fears over public safety and security, the installation of out of date and unnecessary lighting fixtures and an overall lack of awareness of the negative impact of light pollution and how it can be managed at a less intrusive level.

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'Through this project we will be able to demonstrate that this is a problem that can be solved without any negative consequences; it is simply a case of property owners and public bodies installing appropriate lighting where it is needed, and appreciating that sometimes no artificial exterior lighting is needed at all.'

The CPRE said responses were coming back 'thick and fast', with many parish councils sharing the charity's concerns about light pollution in rural areas.

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The full results of the survey will be available in February or March, while a major light pollution conference will take place at the University of East Anglia in June next year.

That conference aims to raise awareness of latest thinking, research and technology on the practicalities and benefits of reducing light pollution and how to promote and encourage good practice.

Over the past few years, Norfolk County Council has been gradually introducing part-night lighting – switching off street lights after certain times.

• How light pollution scuppers stargazing

Astronomers have been concerned about the impact of increasing light pollution for years.

The Society for Popular Astronomy queried its members and found (from more than 800 returned questionnaires) that nearly 80pc of them could not see, or could only barely see, the Milky Way.

And more than half of them had to travel between five and 50 miles to find acceptable viewing conditions.

The Norwich Astronomical Society moved its headquarters from Colney Lane on the outskirts of the city to Seething, in rural south Norfolk, to avoid the light pollution over Norwich.

Norwich astronomer Mark Thompson, who appears on The One Show and Stargazing Live, has highlighted the issue.

As part of Stargazing Live, he persuaded a Dartmoor village to switch off all its lights to see the effect it has on the night sky.

• Street light switch-off is defended

Council bosses have insisted they were right to switch off a number of the county's street lights at night, saying crime has not increased as a result.

Norfolk County Council caused controversy when it announced thousands of street lights would be turned off after midnight (1am in summertime) to save £167,000 a year.

Switching off lights in Norwich, in 2011, sparked concerns over crime and safety, but police were able to insist that lights in troublespots should stay on.

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said: 'To date there has been no increase in night-time crime or anti-social behaviour in the areas where this has been introduced.'

He said an annual review was carried out into crime and anti-social behaviour between the times the lights are out, with a new report due to be published next month.

Suffolk County Council also turned off more than 5,300 of its street lights in July 2012.

• What do you think? Is there too much light pollution in Norfolk? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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