What’s the story?
In case you missed it, the UK went into national lockdown on 23 March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the Prime Minister ordering people to ‘stay at home’, and has remained under restrictions and lockdowns of one form or another since then. Now, more than a year later, the UK government is finally, and very slowly, starting to relax restrictions, as non-essential retail, hairdressers and gyms are set to re-open, and hospitality venues will be allowed to serve people outdoors in England, from 12 April 2021.
While the population of the UK stayed home in a bid to save lives, the impact of the lockdown has also resulted in some positive impacts on the environment. The latest silver lining to emerge is a lessening of light pollution, which has resulted in an increase of stars being visible in the skies over Britain.
UK star count shows drop in light pollution under lockdown
In its biggest ever Star Count with more than 7,000 participants, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE – The Countryside Charity) discovered much lower reports of bad light pollution across the UK than were reported in 2020. The charity reported that just 51 percent of ‘star-spotters’ said they could see only ten or fewer stars during the project in 2021, compared to 61 percent of people reporting the same in 2020.
CPRE put the decrease in light pollution and increase in visibility down to a ‘lockdown effect’, as much of the country has been in strict coronavirus pandemic restrictions during Star Count week, which took place from 6-14 February 2021, noting that urban areas were generally quieter and fewer large buildings were in operation, which meant there was less glow or ‘leakage’ into the night skies over the country.
More stars in Orion
The 2021 star count also brought reports of more stars being visible in Orion, which is one of the most recognisable and easily identified constellations in the Northern Hemisphere winter sky (Southern Hemisphere summer sky). Five percent of star-counters also reported that they had ‘truly dark skies’ in this year’s study, which was another boost on 2020 results.
CPRE has shared an interactive map on its website, which shows where all the star counts were recorded. Where only 0-5 stars could be seen, the area is recorded as having ‘very severe light pollution’, whereas on the other end of the scale, where more than 30 stars could be seen, the nights skies are labelled as ‘truly dark’.
CPRE dark skies expert, Emma Marrington, says: ‘Let’s hope we can hold onto some of this achievement as we come out of lockdown. Looking up at a starry night sky is a magical sight and one that we believe everyone should be able to experience, wherever they live. And the great thing is, light pollution is one of the easiest kinds of pollution to reverse – by ensuring well-designed lighting is used only where and when needed, and that there is strong national and local government policy.’