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Starry skies becoming scarcer

Thursday, 11 April 2013 09:02

Moon and clouds Moon and clouds Photo: © Chris J Andrews

In February we asked the people of Oxfordshire to join our nationwide star count to assess the impact of light pollution. The results are in.

Sir Andrew Motion, President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England says:

"This has not, so far, been a year of weather to lift the spirits or gladden the heart, let alone to encourage many of us to raise our sights to the skies above in contemplation of their wonder.

"So I was delighted, and hugely grateful, that so many people searched for the glimpses of clear sky between the blanket of cloud, and counted the stars they could see above them in a cold and often snowy February week. As I wrote here in advance of that Star Count, dark and starry skies have been a source of inspiration for artists, philosophers, scientists and poets for millennia. When we contemplate the night sky we also pause to consider how small we are in the face of such vastness and depth, and the blackness of a truly dark night gives us that slightest frisson of discomfort as we feel the power and otherness of nature pressing in around us.

"Sadly, the powerful, eerie, inspiring darkness, and the scintillating explosion of the stars in the skies above our heads, are an increasingly unfamiliar experience for far too many of us, particularly if we live in or near to towns and cities. Over half of the participants in this year’s Star Count could see ten stars or fewer within the constellation of Orion, indicating that they live with severe light pollution. We should perhaps be somewhat heartened that the number of those experiencing truly dark skies, able to see more than 31 of Orion’s constituent stars, rose to five percent, but this is still depressingly few of us.

"We rightly lament the disappearance of the cuckoo and the silencing of its wandering voice in too many of England’s fields, copses and meandering lanes, or the dramatic decline of butterflies that once graced our meadows, flowerbeds and window-boxes. But we have allowed the majesty, mystery and wonder of the starry night sky to slip away almost unnoticed.

"Happily, its restoration can be a simple matter, and we are already seeing many councils (one might call them enlightened in another context) changing their practices to reduce the amount of light ascending wastefully into the night sky. We hope the results of this Star Count will serve as a call to arms for many more. And they should also provide ammunition for those areas leading the way in applying for Dark Sky designation. I was delighted to hear that the South Downs National Park Authority plans to apply for this recognition, and I wish them every success. The South Downs’ rolling landscapes, spectacular coasts and intimate river valleys deserve to see their beauty mirrored by limitless, star-studded skies. We should all strive to restore the benefits of darkness."



You can see the star count result on this map produced by The Daily Telegraph


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