Fears over energy costs reduce light pollution, Star Count results suggest
17 May 2022
• Star lovers are enjoying their best views of the night sky since CPRE, the countryside charity’s annual Star Count began in 2011, with severe light pollution continuing to fall since its 2020 peak
• Working from home combined with concerns about soaring energy bills appear to have produced a ‘lockdown legacy’ – resulting in a clearer view of the stars
• Turning off garden lights, dimming street lights and reducing office glare could permanently reduce carbon emissions and cut energy bills – while improving the natural environment for wildlife and human health
A significant reduction in severe light pollution levels, first recorded during lockdown last year, has continued, according to the results of a nationwide star count. Despite lockdown being well and truly behind us there does not appear to have been a corresponding increase in light levels from outdoor and street lighting.
The ‘lockdown legacy’ of working from home and rising energy prices has created an opportunity to permanently improve our view of the night sky, says CPRE, the countryside charity. Office-based organisations switching to permanent home working, coupled with employers’ desire to reduce electricity bills, appear to have led to fewer lights being left on overnight. This, alongside households being more conscious about wasting energy and councils reducing street lighting and switching to better lighting design, are believed to be behind the continued reduction in light pollution.
Over 2,500 people took part in the annual Star Count, the country’s biggest citizen science project of its kind, between February 26 and March 6. Participants were asked to report the number of stars they could see in the Orion constellation. The results show severe light pollution, defined as being able to see ten or fewer stars with the naked eye, has continued to fall. After peaking in 2020, when 61% of participants reported seeing ten stars or less, severe light pollution fell to 51% in 2021 and continued its slide this year, to 49%.
Emma Marrington, CPRE’s dark skies campaigner, said:
‘Half of the people who took part in Star Count experienced severe light pollution that obscures their view of the night sky. This is bad for wildlife and human health – and the energy being needlessly wasted is bad financially and bad for our planet.
But the good news is that these results show small adaptations can make a big difference. If there is a silver lining from the legacy of lockdown and, now, the soaring cost of energy, it is that it has never been clearer how simple it is to cut carbon emissions and energy bills while improving our natural environment.’
A clear view of a star-filled night sky has a hugely beneficial effect on our mental health and, like access to other forms of nature, helps reduce stress and increase a sense of peace and wellbeing. Research has even shown that regularly spending time looking at the stars can lower blood pressure and reduce depression. Yet, the night sky, which is a hugely significant part of our natural environment, has no legal protection.
Turning off garden lights when not needed, dimming street lights and reducing office lighting could permanently reduce carbon emissions and cut energy bills while improving the natural environment for wildlife and human health. Other solutions that could reduce both light pollution and energy use include councils investing in well-designed lighting, used only where and when needed. They can also adopt policies in local plans to reduce light pollution and protect and enhance existing dark skies in their areas.
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:
‘The night sky is one half of our experience of nature; but we don’t often think of it like that. In and of itself, it helps balance our mental health and boost our emotional wellbeing. Recollect that experience of a starry sky and you instinctively know it soothed you.
‘But our view of the night sky – and all the benefits it undoubtedly brings – is being blotted out by light pollution. Like all forms of pollution, it is damaging our mental and physical health, and also having a severe impact on wildlife. Yet, it is a form of pollution that is allowed to increase year on year without any effort being made to control the damage it is causing.’
Bob Mizon of the British Astronomical Association’s Commission for Dark Skies said:
Recent developments in fuel prices may have reduced people’s lighting-energy usage; but the lack of regulation of lighting in this country and the fact that the night sky still hasn’t the protection in law seen in some other countries, mean that most Britons still have little chance of seeing the Milky Way and other sky wonders from where they live. Biodiversity will continue to suffer as we cast (especially blue-rich) light into rural areas.
Notes to editors
2,550 people took part in CPRE’s Star Count 2022 from 26 February – 6 March.
49% saw 10 or fewer stars compared to 51% last year. This is the lowest percentage of people reporting 10 or fewer, indicating the most severe light pollution. This could be due to the continued effect of lockdown and changing behaviours, eg: hybrid working, less ambient light.
3% saw more than 30 stars, compared to 5% last year. That’s a reduction of 2% since the last Star Count in 2021 of people who report experiencing truly dark skies.
Results for Star Count 2022
Star Count results compared to previous years:
|Number of stars counted within the constellation of Orion|
|Year||0 > 5||6 > 10||11> 15||16 > 20||21 > 25||26 > 30||31 >|
About Star Count
Star Count is an annual citizen science project from CPRE, the countryside charity, and the British Astronomical Association. From 26 February-6 March 2022, the public were asked to look heavenwards during a clear night and count how many stars within Orion they could spot.
Results from Star Count help make a map of where star-spotters are enjoying deep, dark skies and where people’s views are affected by light pollution. By showing on a map where light pollution is most serious, we can work nationally and with local councils and others to decide what to do about it.
Find out more at: www.cpre.org.uk/starcount