Local Dark Skies in the North Wessex Downs AONB

The North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has the 26th darkest sky out of 326 districts in England

This year the most detailed ever satellite maps of England’s light pollution and dark skies have been produced by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) in partnership with others including the North Wessex Downs AONB.  The maps are testament to the success of more than 40 years of protecting our countryside from harmful development. As you can see from this map extract, it is possible to pick out the shape of the North Wessex Downs AONB with the areas of darker more tranquil skies in contrast to the more developed areas outside the boundary.

Dark Skies Map

(click on image above to open CPRE’s interactive map in a new tab)

The maps, produced using satellite images captured at 1.30 am throughout September 2015, show that the North Wessex Downs is the 26th darkest district out of 326 in England. It has a high percentage of dark skies with minimal light pollution. However, there are some shocking exceptions clearly visible within the area, notably Harwell Enterprise Centre and Chieveley Services which cause more light pollution than the largest settlements of Marlborough and Hungerford, and prominent light pollution from larger towns just outside the AONB, such as Swindon and Reading, spills far out into the North  Wessex Downs.

‘I suspect that daytime employees may be surprised to learn that Harwell Enterprise Centre is such a blot on the night-time landscape,’ says Helen Marshall, Director of CPRE Oxfordshire. ‘Fortunately, there are often easy steps that can be taken to put things right and we hope that now they are aware of the problem, the Centre will take some action.’

This research comes at a time of increasing awareness of the harmful effects light pollution can have on the health of people and wildlife. That these skies were monitored at 1.30am illustrates just how long into the night England’s lighting spills.

The North Wessex Downs AONB Partnership is calling on local authorities, local businesses, land owners and developers to use these maps to identify areas with severe light pollution and target action to reduce it, as well as identifying existing dark skies that need protecting.

The Partnership is currently developing guidance and advice and would like to hear from anyone keen to reduce the impact of lighting. For more information please contact  The North Wessex Downs AONB by email at info@northwessexdowns.org.uk

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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale