The Steavenson Award

 

CfDS, CPRE and Parliamentary initiatives 2002-2003

To open, Dr Baddiley set out the aims of the Association's Campaign for Dark Skies (CfDS). Most amateur astronomers were, of course, familiar with the frustrations of light-polluted skies. Even in many remote parts of the UK, low-altitude aerosols carried the glow from surrounding urban areas tens-of-kilometres. However, it was not just the present-day practitioners of amateur astronomy who were argued to be losing out, but also the masses who had never had the opportunity to marvel at the wonder of the night sky, or to consider astronomy as a pastime. Thus, since its initiation in 1990, the Campaign had striven to lobby the public, national government, and most importantly the lighting industry, on issues relating to light pollution and intrusion. Central to the strategy for attracting publicity to the campaign were the Good Lighting Award and the Award of Appreciation. The former was awarded to those who had installed lighting which had been modified to minimise intrusion, with the hope that the publicity given to such examples would lead others to follow. The latter was awarded to noteworthy non-astronomers whose work had benefited the CfDS, and past recipients had included lighting consultants and journalists, for example.

A common misconception faced by the CfDS was that it advocated an outright reduction in street and security lighting. The speaker took care to emphasise the difference between light pollution and street lighting: the CfDS did not dispute that good street lighting was necessary for safety, but sought to see a more widespread use of well-directed lighting with minimal glare. Such lighting was potentially capable of delivering the same level of illumination to streets and properties, and thus did not detriment health-and-safety. Its increased use not only provided astronomers with darker skies, but could also be less wasteful of energy.

On the subject of security lighting, Dr Baddiley explained that there had been some debate as to the rôle of lighting in crime prevention. Some UK studies, sponsored by the lighting industry, had concluded that there was a correlation between areas with enhanced lighting, and those with reduced crime levels. Two suggested explanations of this trend were that lighting increased surveillance of potential offenders, and also that it improved the community's pride in its surroundings. This had been the view adopted by the Home Office in recent times. However, the US Department of Justice had concluded from American surveys of crime statistics in areas before and after the installation of enhanced street lighting, that there was no statistical evidence for a reduction in crime. The statistical analysis of the UK studies appeared to be seriously challenged, and was under review.

The CfDS also made use of books and leaflets to communicate its message, with a noteworthy venture being Bob Mizon's recent guide Light Pollution: Responses and Remedies, which advised amateur astronomers on how to combat the problem. The selection of leaflets on offer advised those who were considering installing lighting systems about the work of the CfDS and how they could aid the cause. CfDS had provided information and images for many other organisations, including government departments, the Countryside Commission, newspapers and magazines. CfDS first collaborated with the Council to Protect Rural England (CPRE) in the mid 1990s, producing a joint leaflet 'Starry Starry Night'. To appeal to the public at large, it was sometimes necessary to focus more upon the pollutant effects of excessive lighting than the astronomical implications. For example, it could be pointed out that a 1kW light left on day-and-night for a year generated seven tonnes of CO2, a major contributor to the Greenhouse Effect.

Conferences had been organised to address the issue at both national and international level. In November 2001, a Schréder/CfDS Light Trespass Conference had been organised at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in London. It had brought together over 200 delegates, from both the government and the lighting trade. On the European scale, delegates had united in calling for their governments to legislate against light pollution at the second European Symposium on the Protection of the Night Sky in Lucerne, Switzerland. Stuttgart would be host to a similar conference on 2003 September 12-13, and a further symposium in the UK was being considered.

Closer to home, the CfDS had recently supported the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) at the launch of its Night Blight campaign at a high-publicity event in Greenwich on May 9. All of the major newspapers had covered the campaign launch, and radio and television broadcasts had also been secured. Part of the campaign included the distribution of leaflets featuring images of the UK from space, revealing an average 25% increase in light pollution levels between 1993 and 2000, with disturbing predictions for the appearance of equivalent images in 2025 if the present trend were allowed to continue. Dr Baddiley thanked those hard-working CfDS local officers who had resolved or prevented excessive lighting developments around the country.

The campaign welcomed a recent parliamentary initiative for the Science and Technology Committee to inquire into the impact of light pollution upon astronomers. The CfDS had been actively involved throughout the process, in the first instance submitting written evidence to the inquiry. On June 4, both the CfDS and the RAS had given presentations before the Parliamentary Committee at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, with a subsequent questions-and-answers session in public at the first formal evidence session at Westminster Palace on June 9. The reaction of the committee had seemed very warm, and it seemed likely that a parliamentary debate would follow. The committee was believed to be considering the possibility of proposing a Private Member's Bill.

The Czech Republic had already set a precedent, with legislation coming into force in 2002 June obliging citizens to prevent any artificial light from dispersing outside the intended region of illumination. Heavy fines of up to £2,800 threatened those who failed to comply. In particular, lighting directed above the horizon was prohibited. For example, local authorities were obliged to use fully-shielded lighting, and advertising billboards could only be illuminated from above. A number of states in other countries had also introduced legislation to control the problem.

Following the applause for Dr Baddiley's efforts in campaigning for an issue of such importance to all UK amateur astronomers, the Meetings Secretary closed the afternoon's proceedings on behalf of the President.

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Dominic Ford

© 2003 Dominic Ford / The British Astronomical Association.

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