More views of night stars reported across Herts

Astrophysicist Dr Sam Rolfe at the Bayfordbury observatory. Picture: DANNY LOO

Astrophysicist Dr Sam Rolfe at the Bayfordbury observatory. - Credit: Danny Loo

A new report shows a 10 per cent increase in people reporting darker skies across Herts compared to 2020. 

In February, countryside charity CPRE's annual Star Count saw stargazers report a drop in serious light pollution, with nearly 160 sightings of stars from across our county.

Samantha Rolf, principal technical officer and lecturer in astrobiology at the University of Hertfordshire, said: "It's possible that this is related to lockdowns, where businesses have been closed or running reduced hours, so less lighting has leaked into our skies.

"There has also been a nationwide replacement of the old sodium street lighting, which leaked a lot of light. As this goes on, we will see less and less of the typical orange glow in the night sky as LED bulbs are white and largely direct the light downwards.

"For us at the University of Hertfordshire Observatory, it means that our student observations will be less affected by stray light from light pollution, giving them better results for their studies. Furthermore, when we hold public events, visitors will be able to see more stars than they would have previously."

The observatory has been based in the grounds of Bayfordbury Mansion, just south of Hertford, since 1970 when Hatfield Polytechnic, now the University of Hertfordshire, was granted the site after it was acquired by the county council.

Astrophysicist Dr Sam Rolfe at the Bayfordbury observatory. Picture: DANNY LOO

Astrophysicist Dr Sam Rolfe at the Bayfordbury observatory. - Credit: Danny Loo


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Starting with a 16-inch Cassegrain/Newtonian telescope, which, with some upgrades, is still in operation, the observatory has expanded to include eight telescope domes, four radio telescope dishes and multiple pieces of atmospheric monitoring equipment.

Tanya Dickson, managing director of community interest company CultureWood, leads bat walks in late summer and early autumn in Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City. She said light pollution is a major issue for nocturnal animals.  

"All our bat species are directly impacted by light pollution, especially the rarer species like greater and lesser horseshoe, as are loads of nocturnal animals and insects.

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"If somewhere is well lit, I usually know that bats won’t be seen in that area, so I always go on bat walks which are in fairly dark areas so we can see as much activity as possible. It would be lovely to think that lockdown has led to a renewed appreciation of nature and respect toward wildlife, but we will have to wait and see."

Find out more about the impact of darker skies in the latest issue of Hertfordshire Life magazine, on sale now.

The latest edition of Hertfordshire Life magazine.

The latest edition of Hertfordshire Life magazine. - Credit: Archant


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