Sussex night blight
Crawley District is the 6th worst light polluter in England, and the bright lights of Brighton are dimming the stars over Devil’s Dyke, according to the most detailed ever satellite images of Sussex at night.
The new maps, released today by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), show that Sussex is a county of extremes: Whilst Wealden District in the East enjoys uninterrupted dark, starry skies, large settlements like Crawley and the coastal towns emit halos of bright light which reach deep into the countryside.
The maps were produced using 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 our skies.
“These images show that dark starry skies in Sussex are becoming increasingly difficult to find – even in protected areas such as National Parks,” warns Director of CPRE Sussex, Kia Trainor. “Apart from the impact on people’s wellbeing and experience of the countryside, there is an increasing awareness of the effect that light pollution can have on wildlife, by interrupting natural rhythms including migration, reproduction and feeding patterns.
“We are pleased to see that Wealden District is one of the top 20 darkest Districts in England, but very concerned about the amount of light pollution emanating from Gatwick particularly in relation to potential expansion of the airport. The amount of light pollution from the A23 is much greater than we were expecting. This should be borne in mind when highways England are considering investment in the A27, as any new road building will have a hugely damaging effect on the dark skies of the surrounding countryside and South Downs National Park.”
CPRE Sussex’s concerns are echoed by local astronomers, who say light pollution around Crawley and Gatwick has now become so bad that it is almost impossible to see the stars:
“Light pollution in Crawley is now at such a level that dedicated astronomy software is no longer able to track the sky from my observatory near the centre of Crawley,” says Vice Chairman of the East Sussex Astronomical Society (ESAS), Paul Foster.
“West Sussex County Council has said that Crawley has been designated as a 24 hour town due to its proximity to Gatwick,” he adds. “This generates a large amount of vehicle movement and has staff working shift patterns 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and there are currently no plans to implement part night lighting within Crawley and the surrounding areas, so as Crawley expands, the problem with light pollution is going to get steadily worse.”
CPRE Sussex is now calling on local authorities to use the new maps to identify areas with severe light pollution and target action to reduce it, as well as identifying existing dark skies that need protecting.
However, Founder of ESAS, Andy Lawes says even with a sympathetic local council, the loss of night skies is ever-increasing due to burgeoning development across Sussex.
“We are very aware of the problems of light pollution which is encroaching on our night skies more and more, with the ever increasing building projects that are continuing to take our greenbelt away the night sky is becoming even less visible to our future generations.
“We are lucky in that we have an observatory in a dark part of East Sussex where the Milky Way shines in all its glory,” he says. “But even there over the last ten years we can see light pollution creeping our way!
CPRE’s images show that, in common with 47% of England’s other most pristine skies, most of Sussex’s darkest areas receive no protection. Meanwhile, even the protected South Downs National Park, which was awarded Dark Sky status earlier this year, cannot escape the light ‘fall-out’ from coastal towns. The skies over Devil’s Dyke just north of Brighton fall short of the two darkest categories and are brighter than the majority of unprotected rural Sussex.
“Light pollution is the greatest enemy of all those who want to enjoy the night sky,” says Chairman of the Adur Astronomical Society, Robin Durant who has an Observatory in north Brighton. “The way we are going, our children and theirs will not be able to know what wonders there are to be seen by just looking up at the night sky and learning about the universe.
“Over the last few weeks I have tried to image Mars and Saturn but being so low, over Brighton I have failed where some of my astronomer colleagues, living on the seafront have obtained excellent results, this alone shows the damage to our seeing by light pollution.”
CPRE’s Shedding light report makes nine recommendations to help local authorities reduce light pollution and protect existing dark areas while saving energy.