A RURAL council is investing millions of pounds to install “dark skies” lamps in all of its street lighting in a move which could make it one of the world’s most astronomy-friendly communities.
Dumfries and Galloway is spending £7.4 million to convert the region’s 24,000 street lights from old-fashioned sodium models to new more efficient LED versions.
Although primarily aimed at meeting key carbon emissions targets and saving thousands of pounds, the council also hopes the move will provide a boost to the local economy by attracting more star-gazing tourists.
The UK’s first Dark Sky Park set up through an international movement promoting light-pollution-free skies has already been credited with fuelling a rise in visitor numbers during the traditionally quite winter months since it was established in Galloway Forest in 2009.
If the council gains the status of a Dark Sky Community under the growing initiative, it would become the largest in terms of population in the world.
Outlining the hopes for the refit, Councillor Graham Nicol, who represents the Mid Galloway ward where the Dark Sky Park is located, said: “The first lights which we installed in Glentrool village for the Dark Sky Park have been a great success. The locals seem to have accepted them and the savings are quite dramatic.
“The park has already brought in quite a lot of people here and the big advantage is that they come at a time of year when tourism is usually lower, between October and April.”
The Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), which played a key role in establishing a Dark Sky Park, welcomed the move to expand the status region-wide. Keith Muir, FCS tourism and recreation manager for Galloway, has worked closely with the council’s lighting and carbon-reduction teams.
He said: “It’s a fantastic move for the area. Being the UK’s Dark Sky Park is a huge asset for us. It is a specific draw that is attracting people to the area who might not otherwise come. It’s an investment in the future.”
The light cast by LEDs is whiter than the orange light of sodium lamps which means that they do not need to be so powerful. The sodium lamps installed in Glentrool were 67 watts each compared to LED lamps of just 40 watts.
While inefficient sodium lamps also emit light pollution upwards and sideways, the LED lighting only beams down on to the ground.
The overall programme is expected to generate vast savings, with the completed refit in Glentrool village alone saving £1,500 a year in electricity costs. LED lighting is also far cheaper to maintain and longer lasting. The council expects to recoup the investment in eight years and believes the move will play a key role in ensuring it meets the target of reducing carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020.
Ameé Hennig, programme manager for the American-based International Dark Sky Association, said: “Dumfries and Galloway are leading the way with their plans. “Should they be designated as an International Dark Sky Community [IDSC], they will be an example to communities around the globe as the first IDSC home to over 100,000 residents.”
There are only four Dark Sky Communities worldwide, the largest of which by population is Flagstaff in Arizona, home to 70,000 people.