Enjoy the spectacle of nature’s lights this Christmas and support the ‘Big Dipper’ campaign to protect our night sky

Businesses and residents across Cornwall are urged to take steps to help protect the star quality of our dark skies as part of a nationwide campaign to reduce light pollution.

The ‘Big Dipper’ campaign aims to raise public awareness of light pollution and urges people to help conserve our starry dark night sky so we can all contribute to protecting and enhancing our environment.

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To see for yourself the beauty of the dark skies that some areas of Cornwall enjoy, come to a free event being organised by Caradon Observatory on 15 December at Siblyback reservoir between 7pm and 10pm. There will be a range of telescopes for visitors to look through and there is a really good chance that comet 46P/Wirtanen will be visible with the naked eye from dark sky sites like this one. 

The event is one of a series showcasing the exceptional quality of the night sky over Bodmin Moor, which was designated as an International Dark Sky Landscape in 2017 after a successful bid by Cornwall Council and Caradon Observatory. Cornwall Council is supporting another bid for Dark Sky status in West Cornwall and the ‘Big Dipper’ campaign highlights how everyone can help protect our night skies.

Cornwall Council cabinet portfolio holder for the environment, Sue James said: “By taking a simple step to dip our lights we can reduce light pollution and retain the sense of wonder when we look up to the night sky.”

The Council has led the way with a ground breaking street lighting programme which not only helps safeguard our night skyscapes but has also saved over £26m in energy and maintenance costs; contributing to a reduction in CO2 emissions.

Cornwall Council Cabinet portfolio holder for transport, Geoff Brown, said: “Cornwall Council’s smart lighting system controls the amount of light scatter causing the sky glow.  Given we live in such a beautiful part of the country where dark skies provide us with spectacular nightscapes, we made the decision to upgrade 53,000 street lights across the county with an energy efficient, white light system which is electronically controlled and cloud based. It was a ground breaking decision at the time and is still leading the way for other local authorities.

“Cornwall continues to be one of the leading Councils for managing its street lighting, in 2009 it introduced a programme to replace its stock with optical controlled lights, which dramatically changed the Cornish night sky from orange to black”

“To date this programme has saved Cornwall’s residents £26m in energy costs and maintenance, with these savings continuing to be delivered year on year as energy prices across the UK fluctuate.

“This translates to a reduction in carbon emissions of 5,500 tonnes of CO2 a year, and it means our night skies are darker with less light glow, which is good for star gazing.”

“This smart system means we can dim street lights in Cornwall at specific times, based on the road category and risk, which saves energy and reduces light pollution at the same time”

“ The Council continues to use the latest energy and light efficient equipment as the better LED technologies are introduced on new developments and via replacement programmes” adds Cllr Brown.

Residents can do their bit to support the Big Dipper campaign by making sure that outside lights, especially LED floodlights and security lights, are not too bright and are installed so that no light is directed up into the night sky.

The campaign is asking people to: 

  • Ensure lights point down and are fully shielded.
  • Only illuminate areas you need to and don’t leave lights on all night – use a timer or motion sensor.
  • Use lighting that is no brighter than necessary.
  • If possible don’t use LEDs emitting bright white/blue light, but rather warmer colours, which is also better for nocturnal animals.

Sue James adds:  “Poorly installed outside lighting can be detrimental to the quality of our dark skies.  Many of the newer security lights being installed emit a very harsh blue-white light, which scatters further into the sky, blotting out our view of the stars. The impact is often made worse by the fact such units are angled outwards to increase the spread of light.  A single, poorly installed floodlight can be seen for miles around.  The night time environment is a crucial natural resource for people, wildlife and for the rural visitor economy which benefits from increasing public interest in astro-tourism.

There is increasing awareness of the impact that light pollution can have on wildlife, by interrupting natural rhythms.  Light pollution can affect humans too, including disrupted sleep and an impact on the body's production of melatonin, a brain hormone best known for its daily role in resetting the body's biological clock.”

If it’s rainy or too cloudy the event on 15 December will be postponed. Caradon Observatory will post Facebook updates running up to the event.

For advice on minimising light pollution visit The Commission for Dark Skies website or the International Dark Sky Association website. 

Further information on light pollution and interactive maps can be found on the Campaign to Protect Rural England website.

Story posted 12 December 2018

Photo credit: Outreach at Siblyback Lake by Jon Jacobs Photography