International Dark Skies Status Update

Milky Way from St Helena © Paul Tyson

Background

In November 2015, the Economic Development Committee supported the idea to introduce legislation to reduce light pollution which would enable the Island to apply to the International Dark-Sky Association for International Dark Skies Status. 

The International Dark-Sky Association is a United States based non-profit organization incorporated in 1988.  It is the recognised authority on light pollution and is the leading organization combating light pollution worldwide.  It promotes win-win solutions that allow people to appreciate dark, star-filled skies while enjoying the benefits of responsible outdoor lighting.

Entities such as the St Helena Tourism Association, Chamber of Commerce, Saint Helena National Trust and Connect Saint Helena Ltd supported the Dark Skies concept.

Dark Skies status will enhance St Helena’s tourism product. 

Throughout St Helena’s history, particularly in the 1600’s to 1800’s, famous pioneers, including Edmond Halley, Neville Maskelyne and Robert Waddington, have conducted research and made observations from St Helena that has contributed to the advancement of celestial knowledge worldwide.  

Much work has been done already by the Tourist Office to support our application for Dark Sky Status.  

In May 2012, visiting Astronomer, Steve Owens, found St Helena’s night sky to be rated as a class 2 or 3 on the Bortle Scale (standard measurement), which rated St Helena’s sky even higher than the Isle of Sark which was the first Island in the world to achieve accreditation by the International Dark-Sky Association. 

In 2018, St Helena Tourism was instrumental in establishing a Stargazers Club.

2018 also saw the visit of Dark Sky Lighting Consultant, James Patterson. James produced an External Lighting Master Plan which is a pre-requisite for applying for Dark Sky Status, along with a commitment to introduce legislation to regulate the use of artificial light at night to protect the natural environment and night sky. 

Public consultations on Dark Skies was held during James’ one week visit to St Helena when he was able to explain the benefits of Dark Sky Status and what it would mean for the community of St Helena. 

Meetings and workshops were held with Island stakeholders, including private sector electricians, SHG Planning Officers, importers of lighting fixtures and the Land Development Control Authority.

Legislation

The original plan was to have a separate Ordinance to legislate for the protection of the natural environment and the night sky. 

More recently, the Environment & Natural Resources Committee (ENRC) agreed to amend the Environmental Protection Ordinance (EPO) through the insertion of new sections giving provision for the regulation of the use of artificial light at night.

The amendments provide for:

  • Protection of natural environment and night sky from uncontrolled use of artificial light
  • Reduction of energy waste and carbon emissions
  • The development or adoption of a code of practice to regulate use of artificial light and provide educational information
  • Exemptions for certain types of lighting such as lighthouse and navigation lighting
  • Prohibition on importation and sale, installation, and use of non-compliant lighting
  • Lighting zones to be specified in a development plan under Land Planning and Development Control Ordinance with details about controls and levels of lighting for different zones, etc
  • Light reduction at prescribed times
  • Exemptions from light reduction
  • Chief Environmental Officer may grant permission for non-compliant temporary lighting
  • Light readings to be taken
  • CEO to issue abatement notices to rectify non-compliant lighting
  • Offences e.g. failure to comply with abatement notice
  • Regulations to be made regarding installation and operation of artificial lighting, and for forms, fees and procedures.

The amendments to the EPO is the first step in the process to become Dark Skies compliant. 

Supporting regulations and policy will be needed to give effect to some of the provisions in the Ordinance.

Different provisions in the Ordinance can be brought into force at different times.

The Customs (Export and Import Control) Regulations will also need to be amended to prohibit the importation of certain non-compliant light fittings and sources but will make exception for fittings and sources that are needed for different purposes that are exempted under the EPO amendments – such as fittings and sources needed for air and sea navigation purposes, or for construction sites.

The Land Development Control Plan (LDCP) is currently being reviewed and updated. The intension is to include night time environmental zones in the revised version of the LDCP.    These zones are necessary so that light control limits for each zone can be set. The zones and control limits will take account of existing needs/use of light at night.

An external Lighting Master / Management Plan has been drafted for St Helena to inform zoning and other requirements that are needed to attain Dark Skies Status.

An Exterior Lighting Code is still to be developed to provide method for taking light readings. A light meter is currently on-Island for this purpose.

Codes of Practice will be needed to set standards and regulate the use of artificial light at night and to provide educational information as to why and how the artificial light can and should be controlled.

Impacts on businesses and general public

There are no immediate impacts on businesses or the general public. Going forward when the legislation is brought into force, everyone will need to comply. As an example: exterior lighting will have to be turned off or dimmed according to the time specified for the different zones. 

Subject to various exemptions, the general requirement is for all exterior lighting to be turned off/dimmed at 12am.

People will also be able to apply for exemptions from the requirement to reduce lighting after 12am and can also seek permission to erect temporary lighting for different purposes such as for the performance or display of local traditions and customs.

The intention is to have a lead in period for everyone to become compliant. This will be helped by the proposed amendment to the Customs regulations to prohibit the importation of non-compliant light fittings and sources for retailing. 

In fact, a recent check with merchants/shopping outlets show that they are already stocking Dark Skies compliant lighting. 

Compliant lighting are light sources that are no greater than 55,000 initial lumens and all lighting have to be downward facing. So it relates to the brightness of the source and the way it is shaded and positioned. 

Next steps

Two surgeries are being held so people can learn more about Dark Skies. The first will be held at the Consulate Hotel on Thursday, 15 April, and the second at Scotland Office on Monday, 19 April 2021. Both surgeries will run between 11am and 1pm.

Comments will be taken into consideration and reported back to the ENRC, following which, the draft EPO Amendment Ordinance will be taken to Executive Council for approval to publish and present as Government business at the next following formal sitting of Legislative Council. 

Written comments can be sent to the Secretary of the ENRC, Nicky Lawrence, via email: nicky.lawrence@sainthelena.gov.sh by no later than Friday, 30 April 2021.   

Once this process has been concluded, and subject to the draft being approved at the different stages, an Action Plan will be established to inform a date as to when the amendments to the EPO will be brought into force.

In the meantime, an application for Dark Skies Community Status has been submitted to the International Dark-Sky Association with necessary supporting documentation which includes the draft EPO (Amendment) Ordinance.

If status is achieved, a sky brightness measurement program must be maintained. An annual report has to be submitted to the International Dark-Sky Association to show that that minimum standards are being upheld and adequate progress is being made to ensure Dark Skies compliance.

#StHelena #IDSW2021 #DiscovertheNight #DarkSkyWeek

SHG
8 April 2021

St Helena Government Press Office

Telephone: 22470
Email: liam.yon@sainthelena.gov.sh