Dark Skies over the Quantocks

New interactive maps offer picture of England's light pollution and dark skies

The most detailed ever maps of England's light pollution and dark skies, today released by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), have shown that 95.5% of the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty ranks within the 2 darkest categories( 9 catagories in total).

The maps, produced using satellite images captured at 1.30 am throughout September 2015, show that only 22% of England has pristine night skies. Of this statistic 53% of England's dark skies, free of pollution are in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks. West Somerset ranks as the 7th darkest district in England, and nearby Exmoor National Park is also a Dark Skies Reserve. The South West has the highest proportion of the 2 darkest categories (67%) with the Isles of Scilly, West Devon and Eden in Cumbria ranking as the top 3 darkest districts.

This research comes at a time of increasing awareness of the harmful effects light pollution can have on the health of people and wildlife. That these skies were monitored at 1.30am illustrates just how long into the night England's lighting spills.

The new maps were produced by Land Use Consultants from data gathered by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in America. The NOAA satellite captured visible and infrared imagery to determine the levels of light spilling up into British skies. CPRE is sending lesson plans to primary schools in order to promote the enjoyment of dark skies.

CPRE is calling on Local Authorities around the Quantock Hills AONB to use these maps to identify areas with severe light pollution and target action to reduce it, as well as identifying existing dark skies that need protecting. Taunton Deane Borough Council in particular needs to consider this in its plans for the North Taunton urban extension.

Chris Edwards, Quantock Hills AONB Manager says:
"This new definitive map that shows 95.5% of the Quantock Hills as dark skies, will help to protect this essential element of the Quantocks, and that's great news. We welcome this new report from CPRE. The darkness of the skies in our wilder and more natural areas is so important to the unspoilt character we are trying to protect. Not only astronomers and stargazer groups appreciate this but it is critical to much of our wildlife - both resident and migratory."

The importance of dark skies as key to the character of the Quantock Hills is stated within the AONB Management Plan Statement of Significance, which says: The hilltop area has a sense of space, wildness and seclusion; it is a place people value for inspiration, spiritual refreshment, exhilarating views, dark skies at night, unpolluted air, tranquillity and quiet enjoyment.

Emma Marrington, senior rural policy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said:

"Our view of the stars is obscured by artificial light. Many children in urban areas may not have seen the Milky Way, our own galaxy, due to the veil of light that spreads across their night skies.
"Councils can reduce light levels through better planning and with investment in the right street lighting that is used only where and when it is needed.

"Our Night Blight maps also show where people can expect to find a truly dark, starry sky. The benefits of dark skies, for health, education and tourism, are now being recognised, with areas such as the South Downs National Park receiving International Dark Skies Reserve status. Dark skies are a key characteristic of what makes the countryside so different from urban areas."

CPRE's interactive maps can be accessed at http://nightblight.cpre.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Georgie Grant - June 2016

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