The island of Terschelling is one of the darkest spaces in the Netherlands. For this reason it has become the site of the country’s first Dark Sky Park.
The notion that we now have to designate and protect areas of the earth simply to have an unpolluted experience of the night sky, should not come as a surprise. The night sky and notions of light pollution are one of the least considered of our impacts on the environment. The Dark Sky initiative attempts to maintain an area where the night is truly dark and can be experienced as it once was everywhere on the earth.
Being able to see the entire night sky, milky way etc with the naked eye is a truly mind expanding experience. What we have lost or continue to lose is in no way made up by our attempts to soften or celebrate the urban experience through artificial lighting. There is some research in eco and environmental psychology to support how encounters with Nature can be beneficial and transformative. Light pollution has been recognised as a serious issue in built up areas with impacts on health and the environment. What positive benefits have we lost through our inability to view or contemplate the night sky in urban areas?
Ada Blair studied the role the night sky plays in the lives of residents of the island of Sark, another designated Dark Sky Park. She found that ‘residents place a high level of value and enjoyment on observing the night sky, alone or with others, and feel that this strengthened family/community connection’. She goes on to quote local residents who she interviewed about their individual and collective experiences of the night sky.One resident stated ‘This huge mass of stars in the sky, it makes you feel a lot better … you look up and you look out … it just draws you out, you concentrate on something else’.
In urban areas, lighting is often sited as a means to make an area more safe and residents to feel more secure. Ada reports that on Sark, where there is no street lighting, none of the residents expressed being afraid of the dark.