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‘Lockdown effect’ sees light pollution plummet, our Star Count results show

6th April 2021

CPRE’s annual citizen science event shows a 10% drop in the worst light pollution – and more of us enjoying truly dark, star-filled skies.

In a record-breaking year for participation, almost 8,000 of you looked to the heavens to count stars and the results are in: there’s a nationwide drop in the worst levels of light pollution.

We also heard that more of you (5% this year, up from 3% last year) are seeing deep, dark skies – classified as ‘truly dark skies’ – with the very lowest levels of light pollution. We’re delighted that more of you have been able to enjoy the awe that a wide, dark sky sprinkled with stars can bring.

Want to explore more or check out the light pollution levels in your local area? We have an interactive map that shows how your local star-hunters got on with trying to count the stars that they could see within the constellation of Orion.

Lockdown lighting – or lack of

The 2021 edition of our annual census of the night sky came in early February, and, as our chief executive Crispin Truman notes, we reckon that the coronavirus pandemic restrictions are likely to have played a part in the difference between those of us experiencing the worst levels of light pollution in 2021 and 2020.

‘It’s likely this is an unintended positive consequence of lockdown, as our night-time habits have changed. Let’s hope we can hold onto some of this achievement as we come out of lockdown.’

'Let’s hope we can hold onto some of this achievement as we come out of lockdown.'
Crispin Truman, CPRE chief executive

With 51% of you counting just 10 or fewer stars this year, as opposed to 61% in 2020, it looks like the drop in human activity in urban areas, from brightly lit offices to stadia and factories, has had an effect on our night skies.

This is good news for wildlife, as well as for humans; we know that light pollution can disrupt animals’ natural cycles and behaviours.

To our 8,000 stargazers: thank you

It was especially exciting to see so many of you – our highest number ever – turn your eyes to the skies in 2021 for this yearly citizen science project. You’ve helped us keep track of how light pollution levels are changing across the country. And while our study focuses on England, we had counts submitted from across the world including as far afield as America!

Our colleagues at the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) also welcomed the support we received from so many committed stargazers – especially in the freezing conditions we experienced this February.

Ruskin Hartley, the IDA executive director, told us: ‘We were delighted to learn of the turnout for this year’s Star Count, and congratulate CPRE for another successful event. Thousands of people looked through their windows or gazed from their gardens at the night sky.

'Thousands of people looked through their windows or gazed from their gardens at the night sky.'
Ruskin Hartley, IDA executive director

‘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, for the first time in a long while, have been their first encounter with a dark night sky.’

We are all star-spotters

If our Star Count turned your thoughts to what we can all do to lower light pollution and save energy at the same time, then you’re in good company. At CPRE, we feel optimistic about the possibility to limit this kind of pollution – and believe too in the power of stargazing in a dark sky.

Crispin says:

‘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.’

'Light pollution is one of the easiest kinds of pollution to reverse.'
Crispin Truman

Badly designed light also wastes energy, adding to the climate crisis – another area that we work on. We at CPRE will keep calling for strong local and national policies that will really tackle the known issues around light pollution and make use of the solutions we know can work brilliantly.

These include putting the right light in the right places, such as lights that only illuminate where we walk, and turning off lights in places like office buildings when they’re unoccupied – always of course in discussion with the police and communities so that everyone is kept safe as well as enjoying darker skies.

And we also work to protect and enhance the places that already have deep, dark skies, such as our favourite star-spotting locations and our much-loved national parks and areas of natural beauty.

Stay starry-eyed with CPRE

Want to do your bit to help out? Become a CPRE member to help us keep the lights on (or in this case, off!) and pop yourself on our email list for monthly news about our latest campaigns.

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A father and son look out of a window from inside a house to a dark sky
Spot stars for CPRE's Star Count Abigail Oliver / CPRE