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Improved views of night sky is down to lockdown legacy, LED lights and rising price of energy, says CPRE

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By Siobhan Middleton

A countryside charity has identified Cambridgeshire as a county with dark night skies - and the switch to LED street lights is believed to have helped reduce ‘skyglow’.

CPRE teams up each year with the British Astronomical Association for the Star Count citizen science project, asking people to count how many stars are visible to them in the Orion constellation on a clear night.

CPRE’s tranquillity map of Cambridgeshire
CPRE’s tranquillity map of Cambridgeshire

This year, the study of 2,550 people across the UK found more than half (51 per cent) could see more than 10 - the highest proportion yet since the study began in 2011.

CPRE believes the improved night skies are the result of a Covid-related transition to home working, leading to less light pollution from offices, and rising energy prices causing people to turn off or dim lights.

A map of Cambridgeshire shows tranquillity across its more rural areas.

CPRE’s Cambridgeshire branch points to the work the county council did in replacing standard street lights with LED ones as a factor.

“These tend to cast light downwards compared with the orange sodium lights they replaced,” said a spokesperson. “This has significantly reduced the ‘skyglow’ and made stars more visible in many places in the county.

“Encouraging others to improve their lighting standards - for example, National Highways and private companies - would help us all to enjoy the night sky.”

The constellation of Orion, including the famous belt of three stars
The constellation of Orion, including the famous belt of three stars

For Emma Marrington, CPRE’s dark skies campaigner, the study shows “small adaptations can make a big difference”.

She said: “If there is a silver lining from the legacy of lockdown and the current soaring cost of energy, it is that it has never been clearer how simple it is to cut energy bills while improving our natural environment.”

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, said: “Our view of the night sky is being blotted out by light pollution. Like all forms of pollution, it is damaging our mental and physical health, and having a severe impact on wildlife.

“Yet it is a form of pollution allowed to increase year on year without any effort made to control the damage it is causing.

“The night sky helps balance our mental health and boost our emotional wellbeing. Recollect an experience of a starry sky and you instinctively know it soothed you.”

CPRE’s tranquillity map of the East of England
CPRE’s tranquillity map of the East of England

Paul Fellows, chair of the Cambridge Astronomical Association, told the Cambridge Independent: “During lockdowns, I noticed the night sky was clearer on average. In Cambridge, I think this was down to the decline in air travel combined with the lack of cars on the roads.

“Lights are part of it, though. Ground transport throws up dust, dirt and particles, then light sources bounce off these and ruin the view of the night sky.

“Although I have seen a worsening in recent months, the sky is still clearer than pre-Covid.

“Some council authorities have been turning off streetlights when they’re not needed, which is great for astronomers and good for the planet. I think more councils should look at where and when streetlights can be turned off and do so, provided it doesn’t compromise safety.”

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