SOS: Save Our Skies
Concerned about light pollution? Dark-skies campaigner Steve Owens says communities can make a difference
There is always value in getting people stargazing. The more engagement you have with your community, the more you can make them recognise the value of dark skies and the more likely they are to approve planning policies that protect those skies.
The Isle of Coll in the Inner Hebrides is an International Dark Sky Association (IDA) Dark Sky Community thanks to the work of the Coll Dark Skies Group. County Kerry in Ireland now has an IDA International Dark Sky Reserve as the result of a campaign led by the local astronomy society. In the case of Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, attracting tourism was a huge drive in arguing the case.
On a smaller scale, astronomy societies can help designate Dark Sky Discovery (DSD) sites by working with their community. A word of warning, though: I’ve found that when it’s just astronomers complaining about their hobby being spoiled, it’s a hard sell; what has worked is attending your local council meetings or talking with friends and neighbours and letting them know the environmental reasons why they wouldn’t want bad outdoor lighting in their area. It’s about finding the right route: a Dark Sky designation can create publicity and generate local interest. If there’s a park in your community that you’ve always used for stargazing, but the council are planning on building houses near it, run public events there and get the community on board. This creates more of a narrative about why these sites are necessary. Make the point that it’s important to people, and it won’t cost the council more money to install good lighting instead of bad lighting; it’s just a case of thinking about it in the first place.
Steve Owens is CEO of The Crawick Multiverse in Dumfries and Galloway, and a Dark Skies campaigner who sits on the DSD steering group.
In 2009, Galloway Forest Park became the UK’s first ever Dark Sky Park