In 2016, after a nationwide Star Count, we were delighted to report that Herefordshire enjoyed the darkest skies in England - however this figure was based on average light levels. Once we started looking at the percentage of pristine night skies observed, free of light pollution, Herefordshire slipped to 3rd on the list with only 60% of truly dark skies. Northumberland was 1st with 72% of pristine dark skies (with a combined average of 87%). Cumbria had 62% of truly dark skies (85% average).
Herefordshire Council deserves to be congratulated on its work in recent years to improve the Herefordshire street lights with LEDs, which has done much to reduce light pollution within the county. Running between 2008 and 2016, the project to replace the majority of the 12,000 council-owned lights with LEDs was completed, with around 9,000 street lights included in a dimming programme. The project has cost £7 million and will save an estimated £16 million in energy and maintenance costs over 20 years. This has been cited as an example of good practice in the CPRE Night Blight report published in June 2016, alongside interactive maps of England's night skies, to showcase the darkest areas and the extent of light pollution in England.
To see how our night skies have changed, view the CPRE maps of previous star counts..............
(Each star shows a count in that position, the colour of the stars show the darkness of the sky - from purple (pristine) to red (badly polluted by lighting))
There is still room to further improve the quality of Herefordshire night skies. “Councils can reduce light levels through better planning. The benefits of dark skies, for health, education and tourism, are now being recognised."
Health - Research shows that light pollution can have a harmful effect on residents and wildlife, including disrupted sleep, and in some cases has driven people to move house. Studies suggest that exposure to light at night can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin, a brain hormone best known for its daily role in resetting the body’s biological clock.
Light pollution also impacts on wildlife, by interrupting natural rhythms including migration, reproduction and feeding patterns.
Tourism - To the south of Herefordshire lies the world’s 5th Dark Sky reserve, in the Brecon Beacons National Park and, with a strong policy on light pollution, Herefordshire itself has the potential to become a haven for dark skies.
For example, the organisation Stargazers Lounge currently chooses Herefordshire for its dark skies to run star parties twice a year. Running for 8 years and located at the Lucksall Caravan Park near Mordiford, about 100 astronomers visit from all parts of the UK. The members comment about the sky glow from Hereford but overall they are happy. However, if the quality of the night sky declines they will move somewhere else. Herefordshire's own Astronomy Society chooses the Madley Environmental Study Centre and Fownhope Recreation Field observation points.
Education - What better way to aid childrens' learning of our solar system than to see for themselves the stars in a clear night sky? Madley Environmental Study Centre already performs sterling work education school children about the environment.
What Is Light Pollution?
Light pollution is a generic term referring to excess artificial light that shines where it is neither wanted nor needed. In broad terms, there are three types of light pollution:
- Skyglow – the pink or orange glow we see for miles around towns and cities, spreading deep into the countryside, caused by a scattering of artificial light by airborne dust and water droplets.
- Glare – the uncomfortable brightness of a light source.
- Light intrusion – light spilling beyond the boundary of the property on which a light is located, sometimes shining through windows and curtains
“All generations and cultures have looked up and wondered at the stars. But sadly this part of our shared environment has been degraded. Unless they live in remote rural areas, young people may grow up without ever seeing a truly dark starry sky - and that's a real deprivation." Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal since 1995
What You Can Do
Individuals and businesses, whether in an urban or rural environment, should consider the impact of their lighting schemes on the quality of life for others.
Relish the dark and celebrate the inky night - make star gazing in the garden the social occasion of the 21st century!
Rekindle the spirit of the ARP and the Ministry of Information, and "Put that light out" unless it’s really necessary.
Think about your outside or security light - Does it need to be on? Could it be positioned better? (e.g. not into neighbouring properties).
A profusion of security lights, badly sited or constantly left on, can distract or blind road users and light up neighbours houses and gardens, as well as contributing unnecessarily to co2 emissions & household or business expenses.
Join in the National Star Count (click here for details) and check out your own night sky!