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Wales Gets Its First ‘Dark Sky’ Community

Above photo: The Milky Way over Brecon Beacons, a village approximately 40 miles southwest of Presteigne and Norton in Wales, UK, on Aug. 15, 2017. grahamvphoto / Flickr.

Presteigne and Norton, a town and neighboring village in the Welsh county of Powys, have been announced as Wales’ first “dark sky community” by DarkSky International.

Lights will be dimmed or turned off earlier in order to lower light pollution in the area, allowing residents to get a clearer view of the night sky, reported BBC News.

“The Community has worked tenaciously over the last six years to highlight the benefits of becoming a dark sky community,” said Leigh-Harling Bowen, leader of the Presteigne & Norton Dark Skies Community, a press release from DarkSky International said. “These benefits include an investment in the use of efficient, low-energy ‘dark skies’ streetlights that have reduced our impact on the environment. This change has resulted in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, along with a beneficial effect on wildlife, especially night-flying insects, birds, and bats. The consequential reduction in light pollution has also enabled us to see the glory of the night sky clearly, a legacy that our children and grandchildren will continue to enjoy.”

Powys is the largest county in Wales, and the dark sky area covers about 15 square miles. Presteigne and Norton have a total population of 2,700.

Lighting tests were conducted to make sure the towns were in compliance with Dark Sky Community requirements, and feedback from residents was taken during the project.

The area’s 380 lighting columns were refitted with 2200K LED lights. After midnight, 40 percent were programmed to turn off, with the remainder set to switch to half their intensity. This not only lowers the brightness of the lights, but extends their longevity while reducing energy usage.

“[W]e are making sure that lights don’t adversely affect bat routes or otter feeding areas and specifically use a colour temperature of 2200K for our lanterns so they are nature-friendly and dark sky compliant,” said Cllr Jackie Charlton, Powys County Council cabinet member for a greener Powys, in the press release.

The dark sky project has lowered the yearly carbon emissions of the area by nearly five tons.

“The approach taken to retrofit lighting using adaptive technology is unique among Dark Sky Places and will serve as an excellent example of how communities can use lighting technology to improve safety and energy efficiency. This work signals an important shift in community-level lighting design, showing that being dark sky-friendly doesn’t mean turning out the lights,” said Amber Harrison, program manager of Dark Sky Places, in the press release.

Because of the project’s success, authorities are considering similar plans across Wales.

“We are delighted by the outcome of Presteigne’s and Norton’s application to Dark Sky International to become a Dark Sky Community! Without the dedicated and coordinated support of both Presteigne and Norton Town Council and Powys County Council, it would never have happened,” Bowen said.

Jay Tate, an observatory worker at the nearby Spaceguard Centre, said not everyone was sure about the project at first.

“There was a certain amount of resistance at the beginning because it’s new… there was a bit of concern about whether it was safe,” Tate said, as BBC News reported. “People thought we’d just switch the lights off, but once the situation’s explained… everybody’s more than happy.”

Part of what Tate does is scan the night sky for comets and asteroids, and he said the new changes have made his job “much easier.”

Presteigne and Norton have plans to improve private, festive and industrial lighting, as well as organize community events so everyone can enjoy the dark skies and their wonders even more, DarkSky International said.

Charlton expressed hope that the benefits of dark skies would be implemented by other local communities.

“For the layperson, for anyone walking in the community, you probably don’t actually notice the difference,” said Mayor of Presteigne and Norton Beverley Baynham, as reported by BBC News. “It’s just lit in a more intelligent way… so there’s no concerns, no worries about safety. It’s better for the light pollution, it’s better for the environment, but it’s also better for our community.”

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