A nationwide Star Count conducted in February has revealed a significant drop in light pollution levels across the UK.
The annual citizen science project asks people to count the number of stars they see in the Orion constellation.
Nearly 8,000 counts were submitted between 06 and 14 February 2021, with 51% of people noting 10 or fewer stars, indicating severe light pollution. This compares with 61% during the same period last year.
30 or more stars indicates truly dark skies and were seen by 5% of participants – the highest figure since 2013.
Lockdown is the most likely reason for this change, with reduced human activity resulting in quieter than usual urban areas. Similar patterns have been found with air pollution, which has also dropped across the country.
‘It’s been an absolutely stellar year for Star Count. We had three times as many people taking part compared to previous years and I’m delighted to see severe light pollution in the UK appears to have fallen. It’s likely this is an unintended positive consequence of lockdown, as our nighttime habits have changed. Let’s hope we can hold onto some of this achievement as we come out of lockdown.
‘Looking up at a starry night sky is a magical sight and one that we believe everyone should be able to experience, wherever they live. And the great thing is, light pollution is one of the easiest kinds of pollution to reverse – by ensuring well designed lighting is used only where and when needed, and that there is strong national and local government policy.’
Chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity
The results have been launched to mark International Dark Skies Week, run by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA), which raises awareness on the impacts of light pollution.
Light pollution can negatively affect human health and wildlife by disturbing animals’ natural cycles and behaviours.
Badly designed, wasteful light also contributes to climate change and obscures our connection to the universe.
Click here to view an interactive map of the 2021 Star Count results
For these reasons, CPRE and IDSA want to combat light pollution through strong local and national policies, while also protecting and enhancing existing dark skies.
This involves putting the right light in the right places, such as LED lights that only illuminate where we walk, and turning off lights in places like office buildings when they’re unoccupied.
CPRE and IDSA hope this fall in people experiencing the most severe light pollution – an unintended but positive consequence of lockdown – continues long after coronavirus restrictions are lifted so more people can experience the wonder of a truly dark sky.
‘IDA is delighted to learn of the turnout for this year’s Star Count, and congratulates CPRE for another successful event. Thousands of people looked through their windows or gazed from their gardens at the night sky. The results are encouraging because light pollution levels appear to be falling, but it still remains an issue.
‘We believe that solving the problem of light pollution begins with knowing the problem exists. For many people, participating in Star Count during lockdown may have, for the first time in a long while, have been their first encounter with a dark night sky.
‘As realisation turns to action, we look forward to working with CPRE to bring attention and resources to tackling night blight, bringing dark skies to more of the UK.’
Executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association