“In the evening there is a big stretch,” we are already hearing. With midwinter behind us, the burden of darkness will gradually lift.
As farmers, we are connected to the rhythm of the seasons, and especially as arable farmers, our activity decreases as the days get shorter. But the farmer also wants to work again at some point.
When Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, we mastered darkness at the touch of a button. But with power came responsibility.
Rural electrification in Ireland has been around for as long as anyone can remember and those who have experienced it will tell you that it has changed lives like no other development.
As diurnal organisms, humans depend on light for food, shelter, and a mate—the basics of life. Nothing that came before could hold a candle to the instant, bright, clean lightbulb. And now, the cheaper, brighter, and cooler LEDs are making us think of more and more ways to light up the world.
In farming, we use the lightbulb to squeeze more eggs from our chickens and milk from our cows, and to grow crops outside of their normal seasons.
Our own working days are lengthened or even reversed by shift work. Great for getting work done, although the jumble of our natural day and night rhythms can cause sleep and other health issues.
But most of the creatures we share the planet with are nocturnal, dependent on some degree of darkness for the same vital functions we need light for. Their experience of our ability to conquer the darkness is in many ways the opposite of ours.
Imagine how vulnerable we would be if our light was reduced the way we have reduced darkness for those who depend on it, including moths, bats, owls and migratory birds.
The moth circling the flame has been around since man mastered fire, and in the days of candles it wasn’t a big deal.
Nocturnal moths orient themselves by the light of the moon; Keeping their distant glow in the same part of their field of view allows them to travel in straight lines. Bring that light close, like a street lamp or garden lamp, and the same instinct to keep it in the corner of your eye will have the moth whirling around and going nowhere.
So he cannot feed on the flowers and they are not pollinated by him.
As light spreads, it becomes more difficult for moths to get to their food without distraction from their nests, and such disruptions are repeated throughout the nocturnal world.
It’s been claimed that light pollution is as much a destructor of ecosystems as any agricultural activity, although I’m guessing there are people who will dispute that with you until the sun comes up.
While a satellite image of Earth at night shows the glow coming mostly from urban areas, it’s nice that farmers aren’t the main culprits of an environmental disaster for a change.
But if we’re the pointers this time, we should probably clean up our own operations.
Without stumbling around in the dark again, there are ways we can reduce the light pollution around our farms and homes fairly painlessly and save a little electricity.
Dark Sky Ireland’s website has lots of tips on how to adjust the lighting to make it less annoying to other creatures without sacrificing its effectiveness.
Timers, motion detectors, pointing the light downwards instead of off or upwards and throttling the power of the lighting are either free of charge or cost-neutral in the short term. It’s mostly work that we can do ourselves that we could do before the year gets too hectic.
As we celebrate the new year and the advancing daylight, let’s reflect on the importance of darkness for the vast majority of organisms that literally see the world differently
Andrew Bergin is a tiller near Athy, Co. Kildare
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/tillage/andrew-bergin-embrace-the-darkness-and-do-your-bit-for-the-natural-world-42240278.html Andrew Bergin: Say hello to the dark and do your bit for nature