Dark Sky movement: where are we now?
Since the dawn of time, mankind has looked to the skies. Whether to use them as a navigational aid or simply to seek refuge in something greater than ourselves, the all-enveloping night sky has been a universal, unifying force in giving us a sense of being.
Sadly, the breathtaking beauty of the night sky has been dwarfed over time by the rise of humanity. Within megacities like London, it is now increasingly difficult to find even a single star to observe.
Astronomers and academics from institutions such as the Palomar Observatory in California first began raising concerns in the 1950s about an increase in light pollution from cities and the consequent reduction of clarity for astronomical observations. The ramping-up of the Space Race between the United States and Soviet Union also led to increased scrutiny of the night sky by professional and amateur astronomers alike. It rapidly became clear that the preservation of the night sky should be at the forefront of legislative and political strategy.
In 1988, the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) was founded, with the goal of preserving and restoring the dark sky through education and certification. The first city to be awarded the designation of International Dark Sky City was Flagstaff, Arizona. Despite having a large population, and all the issues that come with human settlement, the Milky Way is easily observable within city limits - a shining example (pun and irony intended) of a city with excellent dark sky preservation.
The IDA has since seen an uptake in involvement from the UK, the US, Australia, and famously, Saudi Arabia.
In 2005, the UK introduced the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act, making light pollution subject to the same criminal law as noise and smells. It applies to “artificial light emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance.”
This Act, although revolutionary for the UK, lags behind European law. In Italy, the Umbria and Abruzzo regions have a strict 0cd limit on light intensity at and above the horizon. This means that all fixtures must be fully shielded. France’s 2018 ‘Decree of 27 December 2018 on the prevention, reduction and limitation of light pollution’ is the most comprehensive in Europe, including strict benchmarks on upward light emission, glare, and illumination levels for local councils, built industry professionals, and citizens alike.
In December 2020, the UK’s first ever All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Dark Skies, in coordination with the IDA, released a ten-point plan for combatting light pollution in December 2020. The plan strengthens the National Planning Policy Framework by making the perpetrator of light pollution directly responsible for remediation, strengthens statutory nuisance provisions, sets standards for lighting direction and intensity, and even allows for a Minister of Dark Skies.
Across the world in Oceania, Australia is currently home to three IDA accredited Dark Sky Places (including the Mazckenzie Basin which has seen a 300% increase in visitors since 2012). In New Zealand, academics and astronomers are lobbying the government to enact legislation that would set new controls on outdoor lighting, such as curfews for advertising, bans or curfews on floodlighting, and strict illumination levels.
Together with the obscuring of stars in the night sky, the impacts of light pollution can often be felt on a more personal scale – with a sense of disconnect felt within our biological rhythms and indeed the innate patterns of wildlife and the natural world.
Furthermore, awareness of the improper application of lighting in relation to crime prevention and safety is key to broadening the conversation of how considered external lighting solutions can make a difference on town and city-wide scope.
Through continuous research and experience on live projects, Cundall's team of lighting designers are passionate about preserving a pristine dark sky and are uniquely placed to address the issue of light pollution in collaboration with our clients.