North Wessex Downs AONB, Units 3-4, Denford Manor, Lower Denford, Hungerford, RG17 0UN
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Jun 17, 2016

Dark Skies:New Maps Launched

New mapping of Dark Skies by CPRE is available on a new website

 New interactive maps offer most detailed ever picture of England’s light pollution and dark skies

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

The most detailed ever satellite maps of England’s light pollution and dark skies, today released by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) in partnership with others including the North Wessex Downs AONB, are testament to the success of more than 40 years of protecting our countryside from harmful development. 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.

You can view the mapping at:

Dark Skies North Wessex DownsThe 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.

Helen Marshall, Director of CPRE Oxfordshire:

 ‘I suspect that daytime employees may be surprised to learn that Harwell Enterprise Centre is such a blot on the night-time landscape. 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 new maps were produced by Land Use Consultants from data gathered by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in America. The NOAA satellite captured visible and infrared imagery to determine the levels of light spilling up into British skies. CPRE is sending lesson plans to primary schools in order to promote the enjoyment of dark skies.

Nicola Revolta, CPRE Hampshire spokesperson, said:

“Test Valley, part of which is in the North Wessex Downs AONB, enjoys some of the darkest skies in both Hampshire and across the country. As the guardians of more than half of England’s darkest skies, we are lucky in Hampshire to have the third largest AONB as our neighbour, along with the South Downs and New Forest National Parks.”

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.

Contact Henry Oliver at the NWD AONB office:

Emma Marrington, senior rural policy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said:
“Our view of the stars is obscured by artificial light. Many children in urban areas may never have seen the Milky Way, our own galaxy, due to the veil of light that spreads across their night skies.

“Councils can reduce light levels through better planning policies and decisions, and with investment in the right street lighting that is used only where and when it is needed.

“Our Night Blight maps also show where people can expect to find a truly dark, starry sky. Dark skies are a key characteristic of what makes the countryside so different from urban areas.  The benefits of dark skies - for health, education and tourism - are now being recognised, with areas such as the South Downs National Park receiving International Dark Skies Reserve status.””

Director of the North Wessex Downs AONB Henry Oliver commented ,”Dark starry night skies are one of the most beautiful and inspiring things about the natural world  and it would be  a tragedy if future generations were not able to see them .The good news that this is a problem that is in everyone’s power to solve”.

Some of the best places for stargazing in the North Wessex Downs AONB:

  • Pewsey Downs
  • Marlborough Downs
  • Chute Forest
  • Lambourn Downs

And some of the worst places for Light Pollution:

  • Harwell Enterprise Centre
  • Chieveley Services
  • Membury Services
  • RAF Welford

You can view the mapping at: