Exmoor National Park is supporting a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of light pollution and help conserve our dark night skies, set to play a starring role in the region’s Dark Skies Festival starting this week (17 October–4 November).
The ‘Big Dipper’ campaign is the brainchild of the Dark Sky Alliance, a national group made up of conservationists, astronomers and tourist operators, including a number of National Parks. With the nights drawing in, and over 40 Festival events poised to get underway, it’s a timely reminder of the need to limit excess light pollution to ensure Exmoor’s starry night skies can continue to be experienced to their full.
Exmoor is one of only a handful of internationally accredited Dark Sky Reserves, making it one of the best places in the country for stargazing. It means that the amount of light pollution within and around the National Park is tightly controlled, so shooting stars, constellations, planets and the Milky Way are all easily visible with the naked eye or just a pair of binoculars.
Exmoor National Park’s Katrina Munro, who is coordinating the Festival, said: “Exmoor is one of the few places in Britain where you can see our night skies in all their stellar glory, but to get the best out of the experience it helps to be guided by an expert.
“From astro-themed family party nights at Wimbleball Lake and a touring pop-up Planetarium, to wild swims, night runs and moonlit hilltop walks, this year’s Festival has something for everyone, from the adventurous to the curious. Last year many events sold out, so we would urge people to book without delay on the Exmoor National Park website or our National Park Centres.”
As part of the Big Dipper campaign, property owners are being urged to consider how much outside lighting they use and ensure where possible that lamps are dipped downwards.
Many outside lights, especially LED floodlights and security lights, can be too bright and installed in such a way that much of the light is directed up into the night sky. This contributes to the orangey-white sky glow above our towns and cities, which spreads out into the countryside, spoiling the night-time view.
The campaign has already won backing from the BAA Commission for Dark Skies, along with Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, who said: “It’s important that efforts are sustained to cut light pollution further so we can all marvel at the night sky wherever we may live. This campaign deserves wide support.”
Pamela Morris, Senior Landscape Officer for Exmoor National Park, added: “Simple steps, like dipping outdoor lighting and limiting the use of more powerful security lights, can have a big impact on our view of the stars. The night time environment is a crucial natural resource for people, wildlife and also astro-tourism, and we look forward to celebrating its many wonders at this year’s Dark Skies Festival.”
The Big Dipper 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.
• Employ lighting that is no brighter than necessary.
• If possible don’t use LEDs emitting bright white/blue light, but rather warmer colours.
The power of a light is best characterised by its lumens output, usually listed on the packaging. About 500 lumens is ample to illuminate a back garden. Many LED products also state the light’s colour temperature. Units of 3,000K and below, which produce a warm white colour, are less harmful to the night-time environment than 4,000K and 5,000K lights.
PHOTO: Dunkery Beacon by Keith Trueman