Meet Elke Langenbucher, MSc student in UNESCO World Heritage Conservation at University College Dublin. Elke spent part of the summer in the Lake District undertaking an interesting moth trapping project with local experts.

We sat down with her to discuss the impact of light pollution on the wildlife of Cumbria…

So tell us, what impact does light pollution have on the wildlife population?

Light pollution has an overall negative impact on wildlife because it disturbs the way animals and plants perceive daytime and night-time and thus upsets their natural behaviour.

Firstly, research has shown that light pollution is a deadly factor for migratory birds because it disturbs them in their flight trajectories, causing crashes with often deadly consequences. In general, light pollution affects all species’ activity, growth and sensitivity to their environment at night.

Light in the dusk or dawn hours and at night particularly upsets animals’ natural sleep/wake cycles (called ‘circadian rhythms’), with daytime species becoming active at night and missing out on rest and sleep. Night-time species, on the other side, will either avoid light or be excessively attracted to it, which keeps them from performing crucial activities such as hunting and mating.

Light pollution also affects entire habitats, with many animals either not using suitable habitats because they are lit up, or species on roadsides being temporarily blinded and often killed by lights from cars for example. Research has also demonstrated that the whole predator/prey balance was disturbed by night light, because it gives some species a better ability to see and hunt other species, especially the ones attracted to lights which will stay around streetlamps. On the other hand, species afraid of light will hide, not hunt and so miss out on good food supplies. This then creates an imbalance between predators and prey but also between different predators of the same species, as they will have a different behaviour toward light.

We know light pollution affects wildlife in numerous ways and that it is essential to think about the living space, predators, prey and general types of behaviour of a species when developing light policies.

What creatures did you study as part of your field experiment in Cumbria?

For my fieldwork I studied birds, moths and small mammals. I recorded birds over several nights and tried to identify if there was a change in activity when they were exposed to small lights (floodlights).

I performed moth trapping with the help of a local moth specialist called Guy Broome, where I compared trappings in four traps with two different types of lamps. I also set up mammal tunnels in various sites and compared mammal activity when exposed to night light versus in the dark.

What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in animal behaviour due to light pollution?

Many animals are active at night, such as owls, moths, bats, some badgers, some mice, some frogs, etc. During my fieldwork I always witnessed some activity at night with many noises and movements around me and further away, even though many animals avoid even temporary lights and human contact in general.

However, it’s the attraction or avoidance to light that causes species to act in an unnatural way. I remember how setting up a floodlight would suddenly attract many birds of prey and dozens of moths, when these should normally be evenly distributed and be carrying out their natural activities instead of being disturbed by the light.

As an interviewee for my fieldwork said about bats foraging for insects around streetlamps: “It seems good for bats in the short-term because they get lots of food, but this can’t be natural”.

What will be the biggest benefit of achieving Dark Skies Accreditation in Cumbria?

The biggest benefit of achieving dark skies in Cumbria is the creation and protection of a natural area which is healthy for humans and animals alike.

To find out more about the Friends of The Lake District Dark Skies Appeal, check out the other tabs on this page.