Starry, starry nights
By Mike Hawtin, Head of Nature Recovery Projects, and Catriona McLees, Head of Marketing & Communications, North York Moors National Park Authority
A star-filled sky is one of nature's most natural wonders, crucial for wildlife and naturally functioning ecosystems but they’re increasingly under threat.
Due to its remoteness and general low levels of light pollution, the North York Moors National Park has been recognised as an International Dark Sky Reserve – one of only 21 in the world. From a town or city, you'll be lucky to spot more than a handful of stars but in the darkest areas of the National Park you can see up to 2,000 stars at any one time.
The benefits of reducing light pollution are much wider than just stargazing. They include economic benefits from tourism, inspiring an interest in science for our children, human health and in reduced carbon emissions from lower energy usage.
Additionally blue/white LED lighting mimics daylight, scattering more readily into the night sky causing severe disruption for both nocturnal and daytime species. Birds go to sleep later and wake earlier, which affects behaviour such feeding and mating. More common opportunistic bat species feed on moths around lights so their foraging area is significantly reduced, impacting on their overall health and genetic diversity. Rarer bat species that don’t like light stay in the roost longer and when they do come out, food sources are lower.
Hedgehogs are another light averse but opportunistic nocturnal creature. They prefer to avoid light in their normal foraging routes but when food is scarce, they get used to food left in lit in gardens, which then makes them less afraid of more dangerous lighting such as roadside lights.
There is also a nuisance element of our lights extending into neighbouring properties.
How can we protect our Dark Skies and help wildlife?
Unlike many forms of pollution such as air particulates or microplastics in our rivers and seas, which will cost billions to tackle, light pollution is easy to fix and saves money! It’s estimated that £4-5 billion is wasted every year in the UK through wasted light.
It’s not about banning lights as we all need light at night, whether it’s to get to our front door or to operate machinery at night. Instead it’s all about better targeting it:
- Only light what you need. Use downlights, use a shield or angle your lights down. You don’t need to light the sky or annoy neighbours, you just need to light your yard, path or driveway.
- Only light when you need it. Use sensors or curfew timers so that lights aren’t on all night.
- Only light at a suitable level. Make sure you use warm white lights (look for 2700K on packaging or 3000K maximum) as they’re much better for our health and for nature.
A significant amount of work has already been undertaken by the North York Moors National Park to help businesses and property owners to make their lighting more dark skies friendly.
With careful planning guidance, good lighting can be specified. It’s easier to get it right to begin with but it’s much harder once it’s installed to ask somebody to change or adjust that annoying bright floodlight that’s on all night.
Dark Skies Festival - a celebration of dark skies around National Parks
As well as the work to conserve and enhance our night skies, we’re also keen for people to enjoy, discover and understand more about why our dark skies need protecting and find out how wildlife relies on truly dark skies to thrive. And what better way to celebrate our star-studded skies than at an annual Dark Skies Festival?
Since 2016's inaugural event in the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales, Dark Skies Festivals have become an unmissable fixture in the calendar. This year the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales (with our neighbouring National Landscapes), and South Downs National Parks are celebrating the jewels of the night sky, with dozens of events planned during February 2024; Exmoor National Park also organises an October Festival.
There are events for families, first-time stargazers and those wishing to expand their knowledge with talks from leading UK astronomers or astrophotography workshops. For the more active, enjoy after-dark walks, runs and bike rides, nocturnal nature evenings, night navigation or how about a mindfulness session? Parents with younger children can try day-time themed trails or space-themed crafting. We work with local astronomy clubs and other star loving organisations to help anyone to discover the wonder of the night skies and spark your imagination. The Festival also encourages out of season visits and overnight stays, giving an early boost to the tourism sector.
Most events require advanced booking. For more information and the full Festival programme, go to www.darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk
We look forward to welcoming you to experience our dark skies soon.
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