‘Let there be dark’ - survey reveals parish councils’ fears for Norfolk’s wonderful starry nights

PUBLISHED: 06:30 04 May 2015 | UPDATED: 14:26 08 May 2015

The night sky as seen from Morston Quay in March 2015. Picture: STEVE LANSDELL SKY PHOTOGRAPHY

The night sky as seen from Morston Quay in March 2015. Picture: STEVE LANSDELL SKY PHOTOGRAPHY

Steve Lansdell Sky Photography

Awe-inspiring dark skies, one of East Anglia’s most breathtaking natural features, are increasingly threatened and need protection, according to a leading charity.

Key survey findings

CPRE Norfolk branch’s survey of all 540 parish and town councils in the county resulted in a 33pc (182 councils) response rate. Among key findings were:

■ 65pc said levels of light pollution in Norfolk concerned them. Comments included: “Our famous ‘big skies’ could be blighted by excess lighting”.

■ 96pc of unlit parishes would not consider installing street lights.

■ 42pc said there were obtrusive lights in their parish and 24 councils had taken action against landowners, property owners or businesses as a result.

■ 41pc regularly make recommendations on lighting when considering planning applications, and 70pc said their voice was often, or sometimes, listened to by planning authorities.

Urbanisation of the countryside and “misplaced” security fears are leading reasons why light pollution is destroying our opportunities to marvel on a starry, starry night, says the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s (CPRE) Norfolk branch.

It is calling on the public and all levels of local government to challenge, and use existing powers to combat, light pollution, backed by a survey of Norfolk’s parish and town councils.

And anyone interested in the problem is invited to CPRE Norfolk’s Light Pollution Conference at the UEA on June 10.

“Awareness of the problem and the ability to do something about it have improved in the past 10 years but, with an expanding population and housing development, there are a lot more lights out there,” said David Hook, CPRE Norfolk’s light pollution campaigns co-ordinator.

“It is amazing when you get a clear sky and can view the heavens - really wonderful. It’s an intrinsic part of what makes Norfolk special.”

James Frost, project manager for the light pollution campaign, said in parts of Britain, such as The Midlands, there was a “zero percent chance” of seeing the stars, because of light spillage from old-fashioned sodium street lights, and brightly-lit areas including industrial estates, installations, supermarkets and garages.

The lights also interfered with animals’ body clocks, leading to blackbirds singing in the dead of night.

But there were still large areas of Norfolk, especially the north Norfolk coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where it was possible to marvel at the Milky Way as our forebears did.

“That’s a privilege we still have in Norfolk and, in our view, we should be working really hard to protect it,” said Mr Frost.

The CPRE survey revealed that nearly two thirds of parish councils which responded were concerned about light pollution in the countryside.

Residential security lighting, road lighting, floodlighting of churches, sports facilities, industry, farms, schools and garages were all cited.

A number had approached those responsible and asked for changes, with some success.

A police crime prevention officer, giving advice on security, would be among speakers at the conference, said Mr Frost.

“There is no evidence to suggest that crimes or road accidents get any worse when you don’t have lighting - it could be helping criminals to see what they’re doing,” he added.

■ For more information on the conference, visit CPRE Norfolk’s website:

Much has improved over the past decade in the drive to combat light pollution, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s (CPRE) Norfolk branch:

■ In 2012 the National Planning Policy Framework was published, calling on planners to encourage good design to limit the impact of light pollution.

■ Norfolk County Council and all the county’s district councils now have light pollution policies. CPRE wants to see these attached as a condition of every approved planning application. The charity also wants parish councils to attach a light pollution clause, drawn up by CPRE, to all applications on which they are asked to comment.

■ Street lighting technology has advanced. Shielded white LED lighting is much less intrusive, cheaper and more energy efficient than sodium lighting, according to the CPRE. It can also be dimmed, and timed to come on only when needed.

■ Light pollution, like noise and smell, can now be treated as a statutory nuisance and prosecutions can take place.

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