England’s ‘Lockdown Legacy’ May Be A Clearer View Of The Stars Says New Research

Light pollution is an excellent way to monitor our progress in reducing carbon emissions and being more conscious of the energy we use. If we’re doing a good job then we will see a big drop in light pollution. If we’re doing nothing then the night sky will continue to disappear from view.

Now it looks like England may have a “lockdown legacy” to protect with new evidence that suggests that stargazers are getting a clearer view of the night sky since the COVID lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.

A recent star count conducted by CPRE, The Countryside Charity (formerly known as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England) found that more stars are visible at night right now than at any time since 2011. That’s when the star counts started.

It suggests that severe light pollution is continuing to fall since its 2020 peak, possibly because people are continuing to work from home and, the CPRE suggests, because English people may be switching-off lights because of a recent spike in energy prices.

Either way a “lockdown legacy” appears to be a slightly clearer view of the stars.

That happy situation for stargazers and nature-lovers—and for a society trying to reduce carbon emissions—can be retained and extended if:

  • Homes turn off garden lights when not in use (aim them downwards, not upwards!).
  • Local councils reducing street lighting and switching to better lighting design.
  • Businesses reduce office lighting left on overnight.

The star count, conducted at the end of February 2022, saw 2,500+ people submit their star counts. The CPRE asked its members to count the number of stars they could see within the constellation of Orion.

In 2020 61% of participants reported seeing 10 stars or fewer in Orion—a mark or severe light pollution—but that fell to 51% in 2021 and was 49% in 2022.

“Half of the people who took part in Star Count experienced severe light pollution that obscures their view of the night sky,” said Emma Marrington, CPRE’s dark skies campaigner. “This is bad for wildlife and human health—and the energy being needlessly wasted is bad financially and bad for our planet.”

However, the CPRE’s results show that small changes can make stargazing more rewarding. “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,” said Marrington.

As well as a dark sky being an integral part of a visit to rural areas, stargazing is also good for mental health, said the CRPE.

‘The night sky is one half of our experience of nature; but we don’t often think of it like that. Recollect that experience of a starry sky and you instinctively know it soothed you,” said Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE. “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.”

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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