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5 reasons to love our dark skies

5 reasons to love our dark skies Photo: Matthew Savage

Dark skies are one of the most magical sights the countryside can offer. Who can fail to be inspired and awed by the sight of the Milky Way stretching across the night sky? Darkness at night is also one of the key characteristics of rural areas and it represents a major difference between what is rural and what is urban. Unfortunately, light pollution means that many of us can't see the stars. Here are five reasons to get out there, look up at the cosmos, and help us protect our magical starry skies.

1. Peace and tranquillity

Tranquillity is a quality of calm that people experience in places full of the sights and sounds of nature. This sense of calm and wonder is takes on an additional quality under dark skies, where we can look up at a whole new world full of stories, science and beauty. The quiet darkness gives us pause to reflect on our relationship with the countryside and the natural world – and that’s something worth treasuring.

2. Keeping countryside distinct

Darkness at night is one of the key characteristics of the countryside and represents a major difference between what is rural and what is urban. But light doesn’t respect boundaries; it can spread for miles from the source and blurs the distinction between town and country. Under our darkest skies, the joys of rural areas are protected for everyone to experience. But with just 22% of England’s skies untouched by light pollution, keeping our countryside dark at night is important to us all, wherever we live.

3. Allowing wildlife to flourish

The rest of our living world flourishes under cover of darkness, and blurring the line between night and day can have detrimental effects on nature and disrupt natural behaviour.

Moths, with a reputation for their attraction to light, are thwarted in their night-time pollination activities by street lighting. Research has shown that swapping old-fashioned street lights for LEDs and turning them off at midnight allows moths to continue their normal pollination, helping re-balance the nocturnal ecosystem.

Artificial lighting has also been linked with trees bursting their buds earlier in the season, a shift with potential knock-on consequences for the whole food web. This shows that while minor changes can make a difference to some wildlife, there is no easy fix for nature, except turning off our lights when we can.

4. Improving human health and wellbeing

The disruption of day-to-night patterns also impacts our own physical and mental health. Artificial light, especially when experienced at night, has been shown to decrease our melatonin levels, potentially leading to sleep disorders and increased risk of health problems. A healthy circadian rhythm is also crucial in overall wellbeing and mood, allowing us to feel calm, well-rested and alert. A dark night helps revitalise our bodies and minds for the day ahead.

5. Astrotourism

While the draw of our rural landscapes has historically come from their daytime beauty, visiting at night-time is becoming ever more popular as tourists seek out the darkest skies.

Many protected landscapes are making the most of their dark skies to draw new visitors into their area, known as ‘astrotourism’, and are providing a year-round attraction for people to view a truly dark starry sky.

This brings increased opportunities for community businesses to provide services and dark sky tours during what was traditionally the ‘off-season’. National Parks which are internationally recognised for the quality of their dark skies include Exmoor, Northumberland and the South Downs, and Bodmin Moor has recently been awarded Dark Sky Landscape status. A number of National Parks now hold an annual dark skies festival in February. These oases of darkness can help build a thriving rural economy, especially in our beloved protected landscapes.

With so many reasons to embrace our dark skies, we have to work together to tackle light pollution. From running events like our 2019 Star Count, to mapping light pollution, we''ll continue to stand up for our dark skies, combat light pollution and reclaim our the stars so we can all enjoy them. 

To be sure to get the latest information on our Star Counts and light pollution work sign up to our e-newsletter: Sign up to emails

Find out more

All of our work on light pollution can be found on our NightBlight website.

Here are five reasons to get out there, get counting, and help us protect our magical starry skies.

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