'Yorkshire's light pollution prevents proper stargazing under truly dark skies'

Yorkshire is famed for its expansive open spaces,  much of it free to roam for people thirsting for a connection with the natural world.
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But, surprisingly, people’s chances of seeing “truly dark skies” around the region– a conduit to “the wonder of the universe, says one campaigner – is unlikely.

A new study by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) countryside charity has shown that few populated parts of the region actually offer the requisite darkness for people to get the most out of stargazing.

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This February more than 2,400 people across the country took part in a star counting survey run by CPRE.

Star Trails over Barden Tower in Wharfedale. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.Star Trails over Barden Tower in Wharfedale. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Star Trails over Barden Tower in Wharfedale. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Counting the number of stars visible in the constellation of Orion helps to build up a picture of the nation’s views of the night sky, says the charity.

The results of the citizen science survey, which is carried out annually, suggest that across the UK, 61 per cent of people are in areas with severe light pollution, counting fewer than ten stars. This is a rise of four per cent from last year.

Across Yorkshire, 65.2 per cent reported that they saw fewer than ten stars.

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Those who experienced “truly dark skies” - seeing more than 30 stars - was just 1.7 per cent.

Night skies. Adobe stock.Night skies. Adobe stock.
Night skies. Adobe stock.

In North Yorkshire, home to the Yorkshire Dales, this rose to only 4.2 per cent.

Andrew Wood, consultant planner and project manager at CPRE West Yorkshire, said: “I visibly remember seeing a truly dark sky once in my life, in the Scottish Highlands. It’s a remarkable thing.

"I do wonder how many people living in Yorkshire never get that experience. Certainly, hardly anyone in Yorkshire is experiencing it where they live and that’s all down to light pollution.”

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During the survey, Mr Wood visited the village of Wintersett, near Wakefield, where he saw 12 stars in the constellation.

“That’s not too bad, but the results from that night range from zero in urban Sheffield up to 27 in the up in the North Yorkshire Moors,” he said.

He added: “What this means is that anyone who lives near to anyone else – which is most of us – can’t enjoy dark skies.”

Mr Wood said that having that experience can connect people to the natural world and the “wonder of the universe”.

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He said: “Light pollution is also a measure of how little care is given to the natural world.

“It’s almost a proxy for the status that we give the natural world in our decision-making,” he said.

Most people’s experience of nature and the great outdoors depends on what is at their doorstep, said Mr Wood, so planning departments need to work on ways making those areas more accessible.

He said: “Some people feel safer with more lighting and some people feel lousy, and maybe even depressed, if they can’t see the stars.

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“We need to address both of those.”CPRE and the British Astronomical Association’s Commission for Dark Skies (CfDS) are urging councils to take action on light pollution so more people can enjoy starry skies.

Chief executive Crispin Truman said: ‘“We’d like to see councils adopting better policies in local plans to tackle light pollution and protect and enhance our darkest skies, where people can still experience the wonder of a star-filled night sky.”