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Planning for Exmoor’s Dark Night Sky

Exmoor National Park has some of the darkest skies in the UK. We have minimal light pollution and on a cloudless night you can see the milky way, thousands of stars and astronomical sights with the naked eye.

In 2011 Exmoor became the first area in Europe to be designated as an International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR). More information can be found here Exmoor - Dark Sky Reserve & Protecting our night skies (exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk)

The dark night sky is one of Exmoor’s special qualities and the National Park Authority uses its role as a planning authority to protect the dark skies above Exmoor just as it aims to protect the landscape on the ground.

Since 2005, we’ve taken steps through the Local Plan to ensure development proposals maintain the quality of Exmoor’s dark night sky. Policy CE-S2: Protecting Exmoor’s Dark Night Sky, aims to protect the tranquillity and dark sky experience of the Dark Sky Reserve and the National Park as a whole. The Policy and explanation of it can be found on pages 46-48 (paragraphs 4.34-4.44) of the Local Plan Part 4 Conserving and Enhancing Exmoor (exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk) A Local Plan summary is also available Local Plan 2011-2031 Summary (exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk)

The map below shows the Exmoor IDSR which has a core zone of mainly moorland areas and a ”critical buffer zone “ around it. The buffer zone includes the settlements of Barbrook, Exford, Simonsbath and Wootton Courtenay.

Dark sky map

Good Lighting Design

Where there is a need for new outdoor lighting, steps can be taken to avoid its impacts on our dark night sky by making sure that it’s properly designed to avoid or reduce light spillage. Wherever possible, however, the installation of unnecessary outdoor lighting for new development should be avoided.

Different criteria are applied in different areas of Exmoor depending on whether a planning proposal is in the dark sky reserve core zone, critical buffer zone or elsewhere in the National Park.

  • In the Reserve Core Zone, proposals should have no permanent illumination.
  • In the Reserve Critical Buffer Zone, external lighting is strictly controlled.
  • Everywhere else in the National Park, external lighting can only be permitted for safety, security or community reasons. Good lighting management and design e.g. the direction of lighting, glare and the intensity of the light emitted is needed to avoid visual impacts and impacts on wildlife and habitats.

The Local Plan refers to the Lighting Management Plan which provides detailed guidance on outdoor lighting for development and management of existing outdoor lighting.

A more recent guide has been produced by lighting and dark sky professionals. Towards a Dark Sky Standard is a UK guide of key considerations needed for good lighting design and the protection of dark skies. A link to an accessibility version of the guide is available on the left side of this webpage. While it is not a formal planning document, it provides advice for both domestic and non-domestic lighting and is likely to be helpful at an early pre-application stage in the planning process and as an extra resource for applicants.

‘Towards a Dark Sky Standard’ provides an overview of basic lighting principles as well as links to information in other documents,e.g. British Standards, Planning Policy and professional guidance, that may need to be considered when designing and installing lighting. There is also advice on the impact of internal light spill and some good tips when purchasing lights.

The information should be helpful for applicants, developers, and lighting professionals and also if you are considering installing or replacing lighting to make sure it does not cause unnecessary impacts on our dark night sky.