Thanet Earth has been accused of causing one of the greatest sources of light pollution in the country.
Thanet Earth markets itself as a leading glasshouse complex sits proudly within the landscape of East Kent. These enormous glasshouses are estimated to produce around 400 million tomatoes, 30 million cucumbers and 24 million peppers each year.
It says it uses innovation, environmental concern and a focus on quality combine with cutting-edge technology, international expertise and the best growing conditions in the UK, but Steve Geliot of countrywide charity CPRE disagrees.
For starters, Thanet Earth uses around 40,000 lights, each of which is 1,000 watts, which equates to some 40 million watts of electricity being used. The Eye Hortilux High Pressure Sodium bulbs used are not efficient and pump out a huge amount of heat. The lights come on at night but can stay on during the day to supplement daylight – so they can be on for about 17 hours a day during winter
But the use of so much electricity is not the only problem with the project. The group of glasshouses near Birchington stand out as one of the worst sources of light pollution in the entire country.
Thanet Earth counter this stating “as an ultra-efficient CHP electricity-generating plant too, Thanet Earth has sufficient generating capacity to
power the lights using our own electricity”.
Artificial light increases obesity rates and drives anxiety and depression, especially in teenagers. It can also be the cause of poor sleep, which is implicated more generally in inflammatory illnesses, while there is growing evidence about its role in thyroid cancer.
Brightly-lit glasshouses in the UK will probably also be problematic for bird navigation. If you .cause issues with the natural day-night arrangement to the extent that is happening at Thanet Earth, and on an even larger scale in Westland, you are not really helping wildlife or the wider community.
The grow lights are essential for efficient, top quality production. Without this technology Thanet Earth
would not be a viable business
There is a question about designing a glasshouse that allows light in but doesn’t allow light out. This would certainly help with light pollution. Is this option possible, has it be researched or was it discounted on the grounds of cost?
Thanet Earth acknowledge the use of light and the affect of pollution. They say their glasshouses have blinds installed but they have to leave small gaps for ventilation. On nights with low cloud cover, this can cause a reflecting effect from the escaping light.
They also go no to mention that whilst light pollution is a serious issue, it should be noted that the grow lights are not used during key production times in spring and summer. Natural light is sufficient for our crops from around April through until August or September (depending on light levels and plant performance). There are few dwellings in the immediate vicinity of Thanet Earth. By leaving the lights off until around 11pm, they aim to minimise any impact of the lights on our neighbours.
A final word from the owners is that with the improvement in technology and knowledge, they are now investing in LED lighting for the tomato greenhouses. Let’s hope this technology can be used across all the remaining greenhouses.
If you want to find out more about countryside issues, you can find the CPRE charity website here.