Dark Skies (Part Two): We need to talk about ALAN

Mike Hawtin – Head of Polyhalite Projects

Dalby Playground Iridium Flare by Steve BellEnjoy the National Park after dark
It’s probably as a result of increasing light pollution in urban areas that many more people are seeking out opportunities to experience Dark Skies, which is resulting in a growing interest in Astro Tourism.

We know from the popularity of our very own Dark Skies Festival that increasing numbers of residents and visitors to the National Park value dark skies and love to take part in all manner of outdoor events at night. Started almost six years ago, in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the Festival has become the biggest in the country and is contributing significantly to the local economy during what is typically considered the low tourist season. This helps businesses survive through winter and doesn’t add to the busy summer season. The Festival in 2020 attracted over 8,000 attendees to over 100 events and across a two week period and contributed over £300k to the local economy in the North York Moors alone.

The ongoing success of the Festival led to a decision by the National Park to seek worldwide recognition by joining a select group of organisations around the globe in applying for International Dark Sky Reserve status. There are key requirements to becoming a Dark Sky Reserve along with ongoing obligations to maintain the status. These include meeting specific requirements for the quality of our dark skies, organising continued education and outreach events, control of new lighting and making ongoing improvements to existing lighting.

This lengthy process started three years ago with a huge amount of background work including audits of the type of lights and controls used in the National Park along with their colour temperatures and taking dozens of dark skies meter readings to identify where our darkest areas are. We’ve even had support from local and regional councils to install only Dark Skies compliant street lighting at 3000k or less.

This work has fed into the creation of a Lighting Management Plan which will help us ensure that new lighting will meet Dark Skies criteria. We’ve also had letters of support from dozens of parish councils, landowners, organisations, astro groups, businesses and pledges of support from the public, which have all been included in our application.

STOP PRESS – This month we were designated an International Dark Sky Reserve, along with the Yorkshire Dales National Park, one of only 18 in the world.

Dark Skies Lighting Improvement Scheme
To help deliver improvements to existing lighting and to meet our Management Plan objectives of preserving tranquillity and Dark Skies, we’ve also set up a lighting improvement scheme to offer grants in targeted areas to help reduce light pollution. The focus will be on helping clusters of residential properties, pubs, accommodation providers, campsites and visitor centres etc. to become exemplar sites for Dark Skies friendly lighting.

This scheme is being funded by section 106 payments from the Woodsmith Mine development to compensate and mitigate for the negative impacts of the mine development. We’re working on a number of demonstration projects to help property owners understand that it’s not about turning off all lights but about sensitive and efficient use of artificial light at night. Two of these projects have already been delivered with a number of others underway. We’ve even had requests from the Institute of Lighting Professionals and other protected areas to use images of our demonstration projects to help spread the message.

Changing lights on outbuildings from bulkheads and floodlights to downlights provides ample light for access but doesn’t create unnecessary upward light spill. Note the lack of light hitting the tree in the second image above.

Glare from poor lighting in a service compound is reduced, eliminating upward light spill.

Changing floodlights or angling them down provides enough light for operational purposes (in this case loading) whilst at the same time reducing glare and unnecessary light spill.

In recent weeks, we’ve set up a new volunteer role called Dark Sky Monitor and it’s really exciting to announce that the first recruits to this role have attended a live online training session so they are ready to go when restrictions allow. During the session they learnt about why Dark Skies are important, how we can protect them and how to use a tiny box of tricks to take readings which will be added not just to our records but also to an international database.

If you’re reading this and wondering how to do your bit by converting or adjusting your outside lighting, whether it be for reducing energy usage (and cost), stargazing, wildlife or your own health and wellbeing, there are some easy steps to follow…

Light only what you need

Is the light needed? Is it purely or partially decorative or does it serve a specific purpose?
Can I angle floodlights down, shield them or change to downlighting?
Is light projecting beyond my boundary and causing a nuisance for others?
Can my light(s) be seen from a great distance? This gives a good idea of how they are positioned.

Light only when you need it

Are my lights on a timer or a sensor? Consider fixtures where the sensor can be angled independently of the light.
What time do they come on and go off? Ideally 10pm is a good curfew or use of a proximity sensor is even better.

Light only at a level suitable for the situation

How bright are my lights? Unless for operational purposes, one or two lights at a maximum of 500 lumens are usually enough for most residential properties.
Am I using warm white light? Don’t forget that all lights should be no more than 3000k and preferably 2700k.

Milky Way over Ravenscar by Steve BellWe’ve created a Dark Skies Friendly lighting page with a link to a property lighting audit to help guide you through the process. We’d love to see some before and after images if you decide to make some changes.

Keep an eye out on our Dark Skies webpages and social media for information and updates on best viewing spots, events and activities, and announcements.

We hope you’ll continue to follow the ongoing work to protect the Dark Skies above the North York Moors National Park and don’t forget to talk to others about ALAN.