NIGHT SKY POLLUTION
Migration, breeding, life and death were all found to be directly influenced by artifcial lighting
Silhouette of adult mistle thrush nesting in a traffic light, Glasgow, Scotland © Andrew Walmsley / naturepl.com
32 Resurgence & Ecologist
In a bad light For the sake of the planet, we have to protect the night, writes Matt Gaw
For aeons, humans have tried to push the night away. As the sun lowers and darkness begins to rise at a minute-hand tick from valley and meadow to crag and peak, we seek shelter and light. First, it was through simple flames, the burning bodies of oily seabirds, fireflies gummed to toes. Then came the thin flicker from rushlights, the splutter of fatty candles, followed by the steady, brightening glow of gas light and electricity.
Little by little, light has grown, becoming not just a means of navigation and a source of comfort, but also a beacon of civilisation. Contemporary pictures of the UK taken at night by weather satellites show an archipelago that is rashed with light. The major cities – London, Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Liverpool – stand out like welts, while even the darker spots are webbed with lurid knots of lamp-guarded roads. The nights of stars and moonlight, sources of myth, magic and meaning, a way of giving ourselves scale within the enormousness and beauty of the universe, have largely been replaced by a sickly veil of human luminescence. Night, with its slow rhythms and subtle shades, has become little more than a darker, duller kind of day.
A study by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, based on night-time images taken in 2015, found that just 21.7% of England has what could be considered to be pristine, unpolluted skies. In 2016, research published in the journal Science Advances by an international team of scientists revealed that the Milky Way, described by John Milton as “a broad and ample rode whose dust is Gold / And pavement Starrs”, was no longer visible to 77% of the UK population. Speaking at the time, the report’s lead author, Fabio Falchi, said the situation was a “cultural loss of unprecedented magnitude”.
As Falchi suggests, the chance to stare up at starlight, at light that is older than us, older than our gods, to have an experience that has been shared across millennia, is fundamentally human. But there are other reasons why dark skies are