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Interview: Duncan Wise, Dark Skies lead at National Parks UK

Did you know that 99% of people in Europe and the US can’t experience a natural night? Light pollution is having a major impact on dark skies, harming animals, nature and even our health. One third of the planet cannot see the Milky Way Galaxy, a drastic change that has taken place rapidly over the past few decades.

While many of us are informed about pollution and the impact it is having on our climate, oceans, and air, many don’t know about light pollution and the way it is encroaching on our night skies. As our planet continues to get brighter, humankind’s connection to dark skies is being rapidly eroded.

We have been working with our lighting designers Core Lighting and technology partner Siemens to develop low impact lights that will be sensitive to the night-time environment. We spoke with Duncan Wise, Dark Skies lead at National Parks UK, about light pollution and how Green Space Dark Skies is raising awareness while celebrating the beauty and ecological importance of dark skies.


What does the term ‘dark skies’ mean?

Duncan Wise: The term describes a night sky that is naturally dark, unspoilt or free from the effects of light pollution caused by inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light at night.

What are some of the negative impacts light pollution can have on wildlife and people?

DW: There’s growing evidence that inappropriate and excessive artificial light at night is harming habitats for nocturnal wildlife, including protected species like barn owls, bats and hedgehogs. If we have electric lights on that are akin to daylight, at night, it is very confusing and disruptive to thousands of insects and birds, especially along important migratory corridors, and sadly, it’s becoming more evident that excessive lighting is changing the way nocturnal wildlife behaves, so we need to make considerations as to how we use light at night.

Long and direct exposure to light at night can also affect our body’s hormones, including the production of melatonin, which is responsible for maintaining our sleep patterns and nocturnal rhythms. We need darkness at night as much as the rest of nature.

What actions can people take to reduce light pollution and protect our dark skies? Is this something everyone can do?

DW: Light pollution is reversible. We can follow and support the International Dark-Sky Association’s 5 simple recommendations that state outside lighting should only:

  1. Be on when needed
  2. Light only the area that needs it
  3. Be no brighter than necessary
  4. Be warm-white, not cool-white in colour temperature
  5. Be fully shielded (pointing downwards)

By following this advice, we will prevent inappropriate and excessive artificial light at night and lessen the impact of light pollution on our skies at night.

We are currently in Dark Skies season, how long is the season and what does that mean?

DW: Dark Skies season is generally regarded as the autumn and winter months between September and March when the days are shorter and the nights are longer, and people can view the stars earlier on in the evening time.

Green Space Dark Skies is recruiting thousands of Lumenators to participate in these events across the UK. How do you think Green Space Dark Skies can also empower participants to be caretakers of our green spaces and dark skies for the future? 

DW: The Lumenators, just by being at these…often remote locations will feel connected to the landscapes around them, especially as dusk when your senses are more alive to the sights and sounds of nature. It will be a truly memorable experience that will hopefully inspire them to support nature conservation and the conservation of tranquillity and darkness.

Can you remember the moment you first felt an important connection to dark skies? 

DW: Yes. Seeing the Andromeda Galaxy through a reasonably powerful telescope at an event run by the Newcastle Astronomical Society at Cawfields Dark Sky Discovery Site on Hadrian’s Wall back in 2011. Seeing for the first time this perfectly shaped disc-like galaxy filling the eyepiece, knowing that what I was seeing that night occurred 2.5 million years ago (Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest galaxy to our own and is 2.5 million light years from Earth) and that everything that you see in the sky at night now happened in the past, which is a bit mind-blowing!

To learn more about dark skies and discover the darkest skies in the UK, visit Northumberland National Park’s website. If you’d like to experience beautiful landscapes across the UK at dusk, sign up now to become a Green Space Dark Skies Lumenator.