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Did you know… 49% of stargazers can only see 10 stars at night?

26th January 2023

At CPRE we think that dark and starry skies are an important part of our countryside. The views across our beautiful county are wonderful in the daytime, but there’s something special about looking up to see twinkling constellations in a velvet night sky. Last year our Star Count showed that 49% of people reported seeing 10 stars or fewer with the naked eye. This was an improvement from previous years but there is still work to do for England’s dark skies.

Since the first Star Count in 2011, we’ve encouraged you to take part in the country’s biggest citizen science project of its kind. We asked people to report the number of stars that could be seen in the Orion constellation and these results provide crucial insight to protect the UK’s dark skies

The good news is that your chances of seeing a truly dark sky at night are slowly improving. The CPRE Star Count in 2022 showed a further decrease in severe light pollution from 51% in 2021 to 49% in 2022. This followed a dramatic drop of 10% from a peak in 2020 where 61% of people taking part reported seeing 10 stars or fewer with the naked eye – which is defined as severe light pollution. 

Emma Marrington, CPRE’s dark skies campaigner, spoke about the results from 2022: ‘Half of the people who took part in Star Count experienced severe light pollution that obscures their view of the night sky. This is bad for wildlife and human health – and the energy being needlessly wasted is bad financially and bad for our planet.

But the good news is that these results show small adaptations can make a big difference. If there is a silver lining from the legacy of lockdown and, now, the soaring cost of energy, it is that it has never been clearer how simple it is to cut carbon emissions and energy bills while improving our natural environment.’

Why is the Star Count important?

Just like exposure to other forms of nature, a clear view of a starry sky has a huge effect on mental health, reducing stress and improving wellbeing. Research shows that spending time looking at the stars in the sky can lower blood pressure and reduce depression. The night sky has no legal protection though and that’s why we’re working to make sure that we can all benefit from truly dark night skies. 

The findings gathered in our Star Count from the thousands of people who have taken part are studied and compared by our dark skies experts. We are able to build a map of where star gazers are enjoying the best dark skies in Surrey and across the UK. With the data recorded on a map, we can pinpoint where light pollution is most serious. This information allows us to work with the local council and other groups to decide what can be done.

How can I help?

Star Count 2023 takes place from 17 – 24 February and you can register online now to take part and find out more. It’s easy to become a citizen scientist and no telescope is required. Adults and children alike can be involved in counting the stars in the Orion constellation.

As well as signing up to help us collect this vital data for the Star Count you can work to reduce the effects of light pollution on a smaller scale in your own daily lives. As well as reducing energy bills in your home or workplace these tips will improve the natural environment for wildlife too:

  • Only use lights when they are needed
  • Avoid using brighter lights when not necessary
  • Turn off garden lights when you aren’t using them
  • Install lighting only where it is needed outside
  • Point outside lights at the ground
  • Make use of timers, motion sensors, and dimmers
  • Draw your blinds and curtains at night
  • Use long wavelength lights (yellow or red hue)
  • Share these tips with friends, neighbours, and colleagues

Local councils and businesses can work towards the use of intelligent and effective outdoor lighting and the Star Count data is so important in helping us to have those conversations in your county as well as across the UK.

If you would like to do more to support our work for starry night skies why not become a CPRE member?

Becoming a member is the best way to support a beautiful, thriving Surrey countryside for all.  We put your money to good use, protecting your local green spaces and working with councils and community groups to drive positive change for Surrey’s countryside on the ground and in the sky!  As a member, you will receive some fantastic benefits too, such as discounts for outdoor clothing shops and reduced entry to some attractions.

Light pollution

Living in towns and cities we are used to seeing the orange glow that is caused by the artificial lighting produced by street lights and outdoor lighting that is travelling further than necessary. Whilst lighting is absolutely essential for us to live and work in the darker hours, it has many downsides that you might not think about. Lighting that isn’t efficient can use more energy and can travel further than necessary escaping from the built-up areas to more rural locations. 

Lighting disrupts surrounding wildlife, which has knock-on effects for the ecology and biodiversity of an area. It can also be associated with sleep disorders and other health conditions for us humans when our natural rhythms are just as dependent on light for the benefit of our wellbeing. 

Have a look at the Night Blight website to see interactive maps of England’s light pollution and the best places to find truly dark skies in your local area.

Star gazing in Surrey

If your local view of the night sky is affected by light pollution then you might want to take a trip to see dark skies nearby. Head to some of these spots for the best views of the starry skies in the Surrey area:

  • Headley Heath, Headley Common Road, Headley, Surrey, KT18 6NN
  • Leith Hill, Leith Hill, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6LX
  • Winterfold Heath, Barhatch Lane, Cranleigh, Surrey, United Kingdom, GU6 7NG
  • Morden Hall Park, Morden Hall Road, Morden, Surrey, SM4 5JD
  • Woldingham Viewpoint, Oxted, Caterham, Surrey, CR3 7AN

There are guides to the best places to see stars at Go Stargazing. You can also find out about events in Surrey and beyond if you wanted to take this hobby to the next level.