Artificial Light in the Environment

The Royal Commission has published a short report on Artifical Light in the Environment.

The report addresses two issues – the effect of artificial light on amenity and the possibility of nuisance being caused by badly designed or inappropriate lighting, and the possible effects of artificial light on nature and ecosystems.  

This topic was selected in recognition of the increasingly pervasive nature of artificial light, and hence of its effects. Natural light plays a fundamental role in the biology of organisms. Artificial light has the potential to disrupt the biology of many species. The study follows on from our March 2007 report on the urban environment where we identified light as an important issue in determining local environmental quality.

A major review of light pollution and astronomy was published by the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology in 2003. Our study will not therefore consider the effects on astronomy. We do however intend to revisit the Committee’s view that modernising street lighting alone would not bring significant energy savings, so as to take account of advances in lighting technology. We will also review the Committee’s policy recommendations in the light of subsequent Government legislation.

The subject of environmental man-made light includes several major themes, each of which prompts a series of example questions:

  • Aesthetic effects

    Questions include:

  • Artificial light can enhance monuments or locales in different ways (for example, York Minster and Piccadilly Circus). Is it possible to identify the circumstances where man-made light provides an enhanced aesthetic?

  • Conversely, are there cases where artificial lighting is aesthetically damaging?

  • Effects on the natural world
    Artificial light affects a wide diversity of species in many different ways both individually and perhaps at the population level.

    Questions include:

  • What are the effects on flora and fauna?

  • Human health effects
    Various health effects have been ascribed to man-made lighting. For example, it has been suggested that one possible consequence of artificially extended day length is the suppression of melatonin production which might in turn lead to an enhanced risk of various forms of cancer.
    Questions include:

  • Is there evidence for effects on human health of environmental artificial light (as opposed to indoor illumination)?

  • If there is, what are the effects, and what are their likely impacts?

  • Benefits including reduced crime and accidents
    Well-sited street lighting can prevent both crime and accidents. In contrast, poorly planned facilities can exacerbate both these problems.

    Questions include:

  • What is the relationship between lighting and crime/accidents?

  • Energy use
    Figures from the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform suggest that approximately 20% of the total final consumption of electricity in the UK in 2006 was for lighting (including interior lighting). Poorly designed lighting can lead to significant amounts of energy being wasted, whilst new technologies offer opportunities for energy savings. Questions include:

  • Is energy currently being wasted through artificial outdoor lighting and if so how much?

  • Are there significant energy savings to be made from implementing new technology or by controlling lights in a particular way (e.g. movement activated lights)

Invitation to Submit Views

Closed 18th January 2008.

The Commission requested views and information that would help to define the scope and form the basis for the study. The outline of the subject above was only intended as a guide: given the limited timescale and the breadth of the topic it may only be possible to cover a few areas in depth. Nonetheless we were grateful for any other suggestions for areas to include. (We will consider these as the subject of future investigations if we cannot incorporate them in the current report.) This letter was addressed to around 240 organisations that we expected to have an expert understanding of the topic. However, we were pleased to receive responses from any other bodies or individuals who wished to contribute. We were also happy to receive suggestions for anyone else who should be approached.

The information we receive is normally made publicly available. Those who submitted information were asked to mark clearly on their submissions if they did not want the information to be made publically available.

Page last updated: 21 May 2009

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution