WHAT IS LIGHT POLLUTION?


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There have been many reports recently about the disappearance of our native wildlife with headlines focusing on the decline on bats numbers, endangered butterflies, falling numbers in insect eating birds, and loss of natural habitats. However there is one issue that is far more wide-reaching and insidious than any of these and you have probably never heard of it.

Like some silent, stealthy assassin it works by sucking night-active insects away from their natural feeding grounds and drawing them towards almost certain death.

The reason for this is startlingly simple and it’s all down to their hypnotic attraction to bright light. It is only now that the modern phenomenon known as light pollution - once only the concern of astronomers - is now slowly being realised to be the biggest global killer of insects known to man.

A German study back in 2003 concluded that a single street light would kill, on average, 150 insects a night. In direct relation to this Philipp Heck - president of Dark Sky Switzerland - has suggested that the 50,000 or so street lights left on in Zurich would kill over one million insects every night. But their attraction to night luminescence isn't the biggest problem here.

Whilst transfixed in its glare the captivated insects seem unable to feed, drink or procreate, only to end their lives dead from exhaustion. This environmental situation is made far worse by the fact that many of these insects are common place pollinators. With the current decline in bee populations - due in part to the Varroa mite and Colony Collapse Disorder - the need for pollinators has never been so great.

Eradicating the world of night lighting will never be an acceptable solution, but there are steps that can be taken which will reduce its impact. At the very least we can give these nocturnal organisms a fighting chance to recover from the worst effects of man's intensive night lighting. Where appropriate, using timer switches and passive infer-red (PIR) motion sensors on outdoor lighting can at least reduce the amount of time they stay on, reducing both insect death and electricity costs.

Perhaps the most useful way the man in the street can help is to plant flowers that – unlike most plants - are nectar rich during the night. This way, exhausted insects have a chance to recover their precious energy needs by dawn. Such plant species would include Red valerian – Centranthus ruber, the common evening Primrose, old mans beard – Clematis vitalba, summer jasmine – Jasminum officinale, the perennial sweet pea – Lathyrus sylvestris, Verbena bonariensis, white campion – Silene alba, honeysuckle and the night scented stocks.

As a second line of support sanctuaries can be created in our own gardens (more specifically front gardens due to their locality to street lighting) that will encourage all stages of insect life cycles. Many species start their life in an aquatic environment so a wild life pond is a fantastic opportunity to promote the next generations of life. The key to success is to stay with native aquatic plant varieties and not to include fish. For oxygenators use hornwort, water milfoil and water starwort. For marginal plants consider the bog bean, flowering rush, the brooklime, ragged robin, rosebay willow herb, the lesser reed mace, lesser spearwort, marsh marigold, water mint and the yellow flag iris. Native floating-leaved plants can include Potamogeton natans, the common water crowfoot and frogbit.

For over-wintering adult insects having a log pile set aside will give protection to many species require over the coldest months. Don’t forget to periodically add new logs as the old ones rot down.

In urban areas, rather than local councils constantly paying out for the maintenance on acres of grass verges, and roundabouts, we should consider re-introducing pollen rich populations of native wild flowers. Not only will they require less maintenance costs, they will also look far more spectacular.

However, the best solution is through government legislation. One suggestion is that all-night lighting should only be permitted in urban areas, and on major thoroughfares in suburban areas where people are active at night. Elsewhere, a curfew from 23:30 hrs until dawn should be imposed on minor suburban roads. Lighting in rural areas should be kept to a minimum maintaining the distinction between town and country. There is already one glimmer of hope however; as a Government White Paper from 2000 has recognised that light pollution of the night sky is an increasing intrusion into the countryside. (CPRE Night Blight, 2003).

By taking these measures we can at least slow down the decline not only within our native insect species but also with those animals further up the food chain.. However, if we stand by and do nothing then we will all become responsible for paving the way for a future where today’s environmental damage will never be recovered.

This article was inspired by the hard work of Graham Cliff and Colin Henshaw.
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For more information on the damaging effect of light pollution click onto: http://www.lightpollution.org.uk/
http://www.illinoislighting.org/
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Images care of http://chawedrosin.wordpress.com/2008/05/26/light-pollution-tenerife-canary-islands/ and cestomano.com and http://stephens-views.blogspot.co.uk/2012_07_01_archive.html

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