Dark is the night... hopefully

A long, long, time ago, I was on holiday on a Greek island, whose name eludes me – it probably had a “thos” at the end.

Out for an al fresco meal one night, the power went off, plunging all of the local area into darkness.

As we were close to the sea, there was an total absence of man-made light.

It was like someone had flicked the switch on a celestial light show. In an instant I saw more stars in the sky than I ever had before, eyeballed the Milky Way in all it’s glory for the very first time and experienced a quite stunning, humbling, moment - utterly beautiful. True, several large glasses of cheap local retsina may have helped enhance it, but it’s stayed long in my memory... a bit like the aftertaste of the bargain booze.

Friends Of The Lake District want a piece of that sweet action (darkness, not budget plonk) and are hoping to achieve ‘Dark Sky Reserve’ status in three years.

The plan is to limit artificial light pollution, which will make the area better for enthusiastic astronomers and the local night-loving wildlife.

Apparently, almost half of our furry/creepy/crawly chums are nocturnal, which was a bit of a surprise to me. I guess I haven’t noticed them for a very obvious reason – they hang out in the dark, and I’m usually tucked up in bed, both of which make them tricky to spot. Light pollution is bad news for their feeding, pollinating and breeding antics.

Astronomer Rob Ince makes a very good point when he says that this isn’t about removing light sources altogether – after all, we do need most of them. What needs to be dealt with is “badly-designed light” – ensuring lighting is on only when it is needed, and that it points in the right direction.

For example, a street light needs to light the street below it (the clue is in the name, after all), not shine light upwards too; many floodlights only need to be on for a short period, not burning all night. Whilst the Lake District has abundant open spaces with minimal population, by controlling these, and myriad other problem light sources, we’re well placed to make the area appealing to astronomers and nicer for nocturnes.

Even if you don’t know one end of a telescope from the other, what you can see in the sky when it’s truly dark is really quite dazzling.