New satellite photo map highlights quality of Norfolk’s night skies

A hint of aurora over the stumps at Thornham Harbour. Picture: Matthew Usher.

A hint of aurora over the stumps at Thornham Harbour. Picture: Matthew Usher.

A dark, starry night is a thing of beauty.

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And a new report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) ranks Norfolk as one of the best places in the country to enjoy an unspoilt nightscape.

Satellite data was used to show the impact of light pollution in the most detailed study to date, to help guide people to their nearest oasis of peaceful darkness.

While the brightly-lit south east of England is drenched in neon and halogen, tranquil Norfolk was placed as the eighth darkest county in England, while north Norfolk was among the top 4pc of districts, coming 13th out of 320 areas.

Kate Dougan, community officer at the Norfolk Coast Partnership, which helped to fund the research, said: 'The Norfolk coast is an area of outstanding natural beauty, and this work shows that this designation has helped to protect tranquillity - more than half of England's pristine dark skies are in areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks.


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'The opportunity to experience the tranquillity of dark skies and stunning views of astronomical sites and events, including the Northern Lights, is a lesser known but important part of the area's natural beauty.'

She said the partnership would use the interactive maps to work with local communities and councils to protect, and improve where possible, the quality of darkness.

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And she called on people to get involved.

The maps, produced using satellite images captured at 1.30am throughout September 2015, show that the Norfolk coast area of outstanding natural beauty is a significant band of darkness.

Major settlements such as Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Kings Lynn spill huge amounts of light upwards, and there are spots in the countryside, such as Docking, where light pollution is blurring the distinction between town and country.

Most areas away from settlements on the Norfolk coast are especially dark, including Waxham, Sea Palling, Kelling Heath, Stiffkey and Wiveton.

This research comes at a time of increasing awareness of the harmful effects light pollution can have on the health of people and wildlife.

Emma Marrington, senior rural policy campaigner at CPRE, said: 'Our view of the stars is obscured by artificial light.

'Many children in urban areas may not have seen the Milky Way, our own galaxy, due to the veil of light that spreads across their night skies.

'Councils can reduce light levels through better planning and with investment in the right street lighting that is used only where and when it is needed.

'Our Night Blight maps also show where people can expect to find a truly dark, starry sky.'

To see the CPRE's interactive map, visit http://nightblight.cpre.org.uk

Dark night skies are essential for:

- Wildlife. For example, birds exhaust themselves singing and flying all night due to artificial light. It affects many animals' movement, feeding and breeding patterns.

- Wellbeing. A sense of connection with nature is destroyed by bright light. The dark is tranquil, wild and the CPRE says it has health benefits.

- Stargazing. Fine views of our host galaxy, meteor showers – as well as making the Norfolk coast one of the few places in England where the Northern Lights are visible.

Some perspectives from local stargazers:

Colin Hards, general secretary of the North Norfolk Astronomy Society, said: 'The Norfolk coast has one of the best night sky environments in the south east of England but as the county fills with new business and more homes this situation might be under threat.

'More needs to be done to combat this.'

Mark Lewis, bakery van driver on the Norfolk coast, said: 'I drive through the night and starry sky over the Norfolk coast is stunning.

'But over King's Lynn it's a sickly orange, and in Norwich it's completely hidden by light pollution.

'We can all do something to stop this blight.'

Stuart McPherson, Norwich-based photographer, said: 'The Norfolk coast is one of the best dark sky spots.

'As a family we often drive out to Salthouse or Cley-next-the-Sea with a flask of tea and a blanket so that we can lay on the beach and admire this window to our host galaxy.'

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