Cabinet Connection – Jonathan Bacon

Cabinet Member for Environment, Heritage and Waste Management

At this time of year, many years ago, seeing a star in the night sky was very important. I am hoping that the ability to see stars in the night sky will be very important for the Island in the years ahead. This is because next week we will hopefully take an important step forward in the campaign to have the Island’s Dark Skies formally recognised.

The campaign has lasted for more than five years and has involved the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, the Vectis Astronomical Society and the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

While it may not seem that important in the grand scheme of things, recognising the existence of our Dark Skies, preserving them and having them formally recognised will bring many benefits to the Island. Alongside the obvious benefits of stargazing and the potential for a wider offer to tourists, particularly in the winter months, there are also less obvious but no less important rewards.

Wasted light is wasted energy and is therefore expensive. Significant economic advantages can be made by following the principle that there should be enough light to illuminate only where it is needed and only when it is needed. This addresses issues such as spotlights illuminating buildings at night, spilling into the night sky, and security lights being on all night rather than when triggered by movement.

Light pollution also disturbs birds and other nocturnal wildlife. Improved lighting will support and protect our populations of many species, including bats and many rare varieties of moth.

I have been involved in the campaign for many years, initially in my previous role as chairman of the Isle of Wight AONB. The process faced many knockbacks, not least the fact of the pandemic arising just as we seemed to be advancing. However we can now take things forward, particularly helped by the desire of the new council administration to support and protect our environment and our status as a UNESCO Biosphere.

I hope the decision next week will start a process that will also see the development of facilities within the Dark Sky Park to enable Islanders and visitors to enjoy the pleasures of a truly dark sky illuminated by the millions of stars that fill it.

And for those who like to criticise the Council and maybe can’t see the importance of this, perhaps you can at least take the view that it might help attract some wise men our way!