On Monday the MP for North Norfolk, Duncan Baker, held an adjournment debate titled, ‘Light Pollution and Protecting Our Dark Skies.’ The debate focused not just on the impact of light pollution on the UK’s nocturnal wildlife, but also touch on how important it is to protect our dark skies. Spanning from blackbirds singing in the dead of night, to amateur astronomers no longer being able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye, Mr Baker highlights how little action has been taken to curb light pollution and its ever increasing expansion into our nocturnal world.
Light pollution’s definition, according to the Convention on Migratory Species, refers to the artificial light that alters the natural patterns of light and dark within ecosystems. According to the Natural History Museum, species of animals and plants found in the UK have declined by approximately 19% since 1970, placing the UK as the most nature-depleted countries on Earth and there is threat of this declining even more.
As the Glow-worm species champion, a beetle which belongs to the firefly family, this is a topic that is particularly close to Mr Baker’s heart. Although, the impact of light pollution has wider implications. As Mr Baker states, “it’s not just the Glow-worm under threat, many creatures, varieties of plants along with our dark skies which are under threat from light pollution.”
The interest of Mr Baker also extends further due to the close connection with his constituency, classified as one of the darkest counties in the UK. North Norfolk specifically is host to two nationally recognised designated dark sites; Kelling Heath and Wiveton Downs, and the Norfolk Coast is well-known to be one of the darkest places in the UK.
Darkness is essential to not only the health and well-being of people, but it is equally important to wildlife. A huge variety of animals need the darkness for feeding, migration and rest. As humans need sleep to recharge and maintain good physical and mental health, so too do animals. The effects a bad night’s sleep has on the rest of our day are noticeable, several days without sleep and the symptoms worsen. The same effects are seen in our wildlife and unfortunately exacerbated due to the increase in light pollution. There are the unfortunate cases of migrating bird species such as Shearwaters or Petrels becoming disoriented and circling in illuminated areas – depleting their energy reserves and putting them at risk of exhaustion, predation, and fatal collisions.
The same can be said for many plant varieties, as pollination rates are reduced in areas exposed to artificial light. In fact, a study by researchers at the University of Sussex suggests that nocturnal pollinators are in fact more efficient than their daytime counterparts.
Unlike other forms of pollution, light pollution has some remarkably simple fixes often with immediate results. It is not simply about flicking a switch and plunging us into darkness, but more about taking practical and realistic steps to lessen the impacts. Instead, by using light better, we can promote better quality, community-friendly lighting. Further still changing artificial lighting around environmentally sensitive locations will promote positive change.
Some of these practical steps to reduce levels of light pollution include lowering the brightness of our lights, directing lights to only the places that it is needed and ensuring that unnecessary lights are not on when we are not using them. Even simple measures such as shutting curtains and blinds when turning on internal lights will keep the light where it is needed and prevent spill over into gardens and wild places.
On a call on the Government to take this form of pollution seriously Mr Baker says, “We must treat light in the same way we treat other pollutants; we need to monitor light and set targets to reduce light pollution levels to ones that satisfy our needs with those of the planet.”
This extends to local councils too as Mr Baker calls on Local Councils responsible for planning to have planning guidelines that are mindful of light pollution such examples can be seen in Cumbria and the South Downs. Utilising this more widely across the country is a way to make sure light pollution and protecting our dark skies is considered more seriously going forward.
Duncan Baker MP was elected as the Conservative MP for North Norfolk in December 2019. He is a PPS for the Department of Health and Social Care and sits on the Environmental Audit Select committee. He was appointed species champion for the common glow-worm in 2022 and has been very vocal about his support for environmental and animal welfare campaigns. When not in Parliament he is an active marathon runner and has raised over £87,000 for his local North Norfolk charities.