Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum from SIGMA, Moray's Astronomy Club

  SIGMA has about 50 members, some of whom have had an interest in astronomy over many years. These members have had experience of observational astronomy not only throughout the length and breadth of the UK, but as many have had a services background, they are familiar with observing conditions in many other parts of the world, both north and south of the equator.

  Members of the above club have noticed a considerable increase in light pollution in the area in recent years. Some of the reasons are listed below.

  We are not in a position to comment on current planning regulations and their enforcement with regard to light pollution.

  With regard to the measurability of light pollution, we feel that this point has been well covered in the December 2002 issue of the American astronomy magazine, "Sky and Telescope".

  It seems to be obvious that further controls on light pollution are necessary as local councillors approached on this matter were not only unaware whether the planning authority had a policy on this matter, they had never heard of the term "light pollution".


  1.  Council Taxpayers in almost every small collection of houses demand the same services as everyone else and have therefore persuaded the Council to provide street lighting. We cannot deny this right to anyone but the type of street lights installed are usually of the most intrusive type, with a large proportion of the light spilling sideways and upwards. Being in the most rural areas, these lamps are less likely to be replaced than those in larger villages and towns.

  2.  In a largely rural community, rural crime is becoming more of an issue and farmers and isolated householders are making more frequent use of unregulated security lights, which can be seen from long distances. These lights not only increase light pollution but they interfere with the dark adaptation of astronomers' eyes and are often a hazard to road users. The increase in the use of security lights in back gardens in built-up areas has made observing from home impossible for some members.

  3.  Business in rural areas are becoming increasingly security conscious and many have surrounded their premises with inefficient and badly aligned security lights. These are often visible from considerable distances, to the detriment of astronomers in the surrounding area.

  4.  The well-documented economic problems in the agricultural community have led many farmers to seek diversification in the use of their land. This has led to a growth in sports and leisure facilities in what were formerly dark, rural locations. Golf driving ranges and go-cart tracks are becoming increasingly popular in the area and as these are all-year-round facilities, most are floodlit. Proper control of the type of floodlighting used would reduce their impact on the night sky but at present, most are visible over large areas with beams of light pointing upwards not uncommon.

  5.  In more built up areas, sports facilities cause similar problems. All weather sports pitches, tennis clubs and curling ponds are used frequently under floodlit conditions with some of the older facilities having particularly intrusive lighting.

  6.  As more towns and villages along the A96 trunk road are by-passed, and business parks built in rural areas, more and more roundabouts are being constructed. Each roundabout is accompanied by lights on extremely high poles, visible from long distances. One particular recently built roundabout has lights that are dazzling to road users when approached from a hill considerably above the level of the lighting units. This is an obvious example of the inefficient types of lighting units still being installed. Dual carriage-ways in built up areas also seem to accompanied by unnecessary lighting.

  7.  Floodlighting at the two RAF bases in the area and at the many fishing ports along the coast make astronomy almost impossible near these facilities.

  8.  There appears to be a discrepancy in the attitudes of local authorities in the area towards street lighting. Highland Council and Aberdeenshire Councils appear to have a policy of installing full cut-off street lights in villages along trunk roads and at roundabouts on trunk roads but in the area under the control of Moray Council, full cut-off lights are conspicuous by their absence.

  9.  In spite of new and increasing forms of light pollution in this area, by far the most intrusive form is the orange glow above every built-up area, produced by the elderly, inefficient sodium street lights which spill upwards a large proportion of their light output.


  Unlike many forms of pollution which are either permanent or will take many years to correct, light pollution can be minimised by the enforcement of the installation of suitable non-polluting light sources, without compromising safety or security.

  With the co-operation of manufacturers and retailers, unsuitable exterior light fittings for domestic use could be withdrawn from sale. Private householders who at present utilise badly designed lights could be encouraged to replace them by the introduction of a new-for-old scheme.

  Legislation could be implemented to give commercial premises a deadline to replace badly polluting security lights.

  Government funds could be provided to allow local authorities and highways agencies to carry out a rolling programme of replacing badly polluting and inefficient light sources in public areas.

  An improvement in efficiency would not only be self-financing in the long term, but would also help the Government to meet its target for the reduction of greenhouse gasses.

  A mixture of legislation, co-operation and consideration could go a long way to returning the greatest natural wonder of the world, the night sky, to the people of this country.

April 2003

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