In 2021, the Cornwall region of West Penwith, England became a Dark Sky Park: an international marker of exceptionally low light pollution, according to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a body that recognises and accredits dark-sky areas worldwide. The IDA was set up to protect night environments from skyglow – excessive, artificial light directed upwards into the sky. The IDA counts more than 190 sites in its dark sky program, protecting over 110,000sq km (42,471sq miles) of dark places around the globe.
The status is seen as a seal of approval which can be used by communities as a basis for further conservation, tourism, education or marketing campaigns. The benefits of dark skies, include improvement to human health. The environment also benefits; as does wildlife such as birds, insects and sea creatures who experience various difficulties due to artificial light.
Councillors, astronomers and residents took seven years to achieve Dark Sky Status for West Penwith. They undertook a “sky quality assessment”, which involved submitting light meter readings in the darkest areas of the 135sq km (52sq mile) region.
A community campaign was launched, convincing residents to convert to “dark-sky friendly” lighting – fixtures which are shielded, or angled down, rather than beaming up. Local companies and councils were encouraged to rethink their lighting strategies by turning off floodlights and street lights after certain times. Simply replacing bulbs with narrow-spectrum or low-colour temperature alternatives, minimises harmful light. The gold standard is to install lighting with a colour temperature no higher than 3,000K, within the IDA’s lighting recommendations.
The UK currently has the highest concentration of dark sky areas in the world. The night skies of Penwith West will likely be protected for generations to come due to the community’s efforts in reaching Dark Sky Status.