How can individuals help tackle light pollution?

Light pollution (also sometimes referred to as photo pollution) doesn’t sound overly dramatic compared to something like car emissions that can affect our lungs. But the fact is that light pollution has negative effects on the environment, affecting wildlife and ultimately us too.

The effects of light pollution

There’s nothing like looking up to the sky at night, seeing the stars, and realising how small we are in the grand scheme of things. Light pollution spoils our view of the night sky but it can have more a serious impact on animals and insects.

Some animals use stars or the moon to help guide them during their migratory or breeding seasons. For example, light pollution means that birds flying south for the winter may inadvertently be led to cities, causing them to lose their way or collide with buildings.

Nocturnal animals rely on the lack of light to go about their business, whether that’s hunting or foraging - if it’s too light they’re put at a disadvantage and don’t get enough food, which causes their population to fall. Bats rely on the darkness for survival, and the Bats Conservation Trust state that overuse of artificial lighting can disrupt bats by:

"delaying or preventing emergence from roosts, resulting in reduced foraging time and missing the peak time of insect abundance (just after dusk). As all bats in the UK feed on insects, this missed opportunity can have a serious impact on their survival and the growth rates of their young."

The flip side of this is that some insects are attracted to certain types of street lamps and some bats will use this to their advantage, however the Bats Conservation Trust also note that this leaves bats vulnerable to attack from birds of prey such as the peregrine falcon.

It’s also believed that amphibians and insects can be affected by light pollution. Although insects may give some people the heebie-jeebies, they’re a vital part of our ecosystem, providing food for birds and helping to pollinate plants.

Small steps can help

Light pollution might feel like a mammoth problem and it could be difficult to see how an individual can make a positive difference, but small steps can help and when it comes to your home, these actions can potentially help you save energy and money too.

Complementary colour

Sleep experts advise against watching TV, or scrolling on our phones, for at least an hour before bed. This is because the blue light that’s emitted from screens can tire our eyes and keep us alert when our bodies would prefer to be winding down in preparation for slumber. This in turn messes up our sleeping pattern, which can then impact on other areas of our lives - physically and mentally. Blue and white light outside the home can also have similar negative effects, so when choosing lights for the garden or external parts of our properties, opting for warmer shades can help to be less intrusive.

In the night garden

Many people like the peace of mind that comes with having a security lighting system. Most security lights are activated when a person or larger animal wanders onto your property and triggers the sensors. This means that their beams aren’t blasting away all night every night, which is a win against light pollution. However some lights aren’t triggered by movement and so remain on full glare all night. This isn’t always necessary, so connecting them to a timer system is an alternative option.

Another thing to consider when it comes to security lights is making sure that they’re positioned and angled correctly. Mounting one on a wall above a door or window that faces directly outwards won’t do you any favours. Why? One, they shine directly ahead and into eyes of the viewer - if there was someone underneath trying to break into your property, you’d barely be able to see them. Two, at that angle, the area they should be lighting (your front door or garage door for example), is missed as the beam faces outwards. Finally, at this angle, they could be disruptive to nocturnal creatures (and potentially your neighbours). The Commission for Dark Skies has more information and thoughts about correct security lighting here.

If you’re lucky enough to have a large garden, you might choose to make a feature of a tree, lighting it up at night with the use of a spotlight. Although this can look nice, it’s completely unnecessary and can be detrimental to whatever might dwell there, or rely on it for cover during the night. Why not save on the energy bill and switch it off?

You can keep an eye on your energy spend by logging into your account and checking My Energy. See your energy use and compare your household to other similar sized homes, plus learn hints and tips that can help you save energy. You can also see what fixed-rate energy tariffs are available to you.


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