Kent County Council’s LED streetlights decimating moth numbers

“Eco-friendly” LED streetlights produce even worse light pollution for insects than the traditional sodium bulbs they are replacing, a study has found.

The study is the first to examine the impact of LEDs in a real-world setting and the first to show the direct impact of light pollution on caterpillars. The caterpillars are less mobile than adult moths, and therefore show more precisely the local losses caused by light pollution.

Given the harm artificial light causes, and the fact the 2018 Tory government’s commitment to reduce light pollution, it is unacceptable that it is refusing to commit to a national light pollution reduction target which would help prevent further decline to these night time pollinators.

In 2001 Kent County Council (KCC) signed the Nottingham Declaration. Signing up to the Nottingham Declaration meant KCC had to develop plans with their partners and local communities to progressively address the causes and impacts of climate change, according to local priorities, securing maximum benefit for our communities.

In 2014 KCCs Environment & Transport Cabinet Committee on the 5 December 2014 began discussing the implementation of LED street and sign lighting across the county.

KCC is one of the largest lighting authorities in the UK and has around 120,000 street lights and some 25,000 lit signs and bollards. The annual cost of illuminating these was estimated at £5.8m in 2014. This then was a cost that would keeps rising. The average increase for energy prices to KCC in 2014 was around 11%. The carbon produced from generating the energy to illuminate those signs and lights was around 24,000 tonnes which accounted for over half the carbon footprint across the entire KCC estate.

The implementation of scheme cost around £40m and took about three years to implement. The scheme resulted in reduced energy consumption and carbon emissions and less maintenance.  The annual saving was estimated at £5.3m in 2014 prices.

None of the committee papers, or minutes, in 2014, 2015 and 2016 mentioned the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (The Act), and specifically section 40 of the act.

Section 40 (1), (2) and (3) of the Act states:

1 – The public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity.

3 – Conserving biodiversity includes, in relation to a living organism or type of habitat, restoring or enhancing a population or habitat.

And section 41(1) of the Act states:

1- The Secretary of State must, as respects England, publish a list of the living organisms and types of habitat which in the Secretary of State’s opinion are of principal importance for the purpose of conserving biodiversity.

The list of species and habitats of principal importance in England mentions moths and caterpillars which can be found – albeit in depleted numbers across our county and the UK, due to ongoing biodiversity decline.

Nowhere in the KCCs Environment & Transport Committee papers, or minutes, is there any evidence of them undertaking any studies, paper or real world, or having regard to conserving biodiversity. The committee papers show their motives were to reduce carbon emission and save money. Given the fact that the first real word study has found that populations of moths and caterpillars are being destroyed, going green has assisted in the decline of caterpillars and moths across the county. The law of unintended consequences.

It has been known since 2012, light pollution has had significant impacts on nocturnal insects such as moths.

On the evidence available then KCCs duty to “have regard” to biodiversity have been ineffective, and that the state of biodiversity in the county continues to decline as it does nationally.  The Act can be considered to have had little practical impact for a range of reasons, including low awareness, poor understanding, a lack of reporting requirements, a lack of biodiversity knowledge and resources, weak wording and lack of enforceability.

The Association of Local Government Ecologists told us:

“The lack of any reporting requirement and reward/penalty for implementing/not demonstrating the duty of regard means there is little incentive for any local authority, with limited resources, to implement this duty to any significant degree”

LEDs are the baddies in this story, because they’re worse in terms of their effect on moths and caterpillars.

There are around 2,500 species of moth in the UK. They’re really important as prey for birds, bats, hedgehogs and other predatory invertebrates. But they’re also really important pollinators. They do the night shift after the daytime pollinators have gone to bed.

Anecdotally, almost everybody over the age of about 50 years old can remember a time when any long-distance drive in summer resulted in a windscreen so splattered with dead insects that it was necessary to stop occasionally to scrub them off. Driving country lanes at night in high summer would reveal a blizzard of moths in the headlights. Today, drivers in the county and the UK are freed from the chore of washing their windscreen due to the significant decline in biodiversity.

There are solutions to hand; which could alter prevent further decline of the moths and caterpillars.

LEDs are dimmable, can be linked to motion sensors and can have cheap filters fitted to screen out blue light which affect moths. Yes, LEDs are energy efficient, leading to reduced climate-warming emissions, which is a good thing. It might be wise and prudent for KCC to introduce these measures, otherwise in another twenty years or so the night shift pollinators will have all but disappeared.

If you care for your environment here in Kent, a wise and prudent thing would be to contact the KCC Cabinet Member for the Environment, Cllr Susan Carey (pictured), and the KCC Cabinet Member for Highways & Transport, Cllr David Brazier (pictured), to highlight the issue LED lights have on biodiversity, and consider implementing solutions to help resolve the decline of our natural night time biodiversity.

Also let’s not forget the four new Green Party KCC Cllrs who should be raising this issue as well.

Finally, KCC should be setting the agenda for the undertaking of research and data collection around this important issue given the results of the study published in the Journal of Science Advances. This is not happening at present. You can help change that by being part of the solution.

The Shepway Vox Team

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