Garden lighting: effects on wildlife

Used sparingly, lights in the garden can enhance its night-time charms, but what about the effects on wildlife?

Frogs seem to be attracted to light. Credit: RHS.

Quick facts

Suitable for Highlighting trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants and providing security lighting
Timing All year round
Difficulty Easy or Moderate

How to effectively use garden lighting

Gardeners often use garden lighting to brighten up their garden at any time of year - from summer parties to winter viewings.

  • Lighting in gardens can illuminate particular features and create a welcoming place to sit in the evenings but can negatively impact on wildlife
  • Security lighting is another major use of light in gardens, positioned to catch the movement of visitors or intruders, often down the entrances and sides of houses 
  • Low-voltage, easy-to-install kits can be plugged into a pre-existing mains socket, and usually have smaller light fittings than mains electricity lighting, which is only really necessary for illuminating large gardens or big trees
  • A registered electrician must be used for all mains garden installations

Lighting and wildlife

The potential effects of lighting on wildlife and the environment is often overlooked. Light pollution from inappropriately positioned security lighting is often the worst.

Impact on wildlife

  • Artificial light can make gardens a no-go area for some wildlife so it's important to retain some dark areas
  • Many insects, including moths can navigate by light sources, such as the moon, and may become disorientated by artificial lights
  • Many bat species avoid lit areas altogether and although some bats may be more tolerant and take advantage of the accumulation of insects at artificial lights to hunt, it can then open these species up to the risk of predation
  • Security lights may temporarily blind certain animals and may even attract them, as appears to be the case with frogs
  • Garden birds are disturbed from sleep by sudden lighting and can begin singing before dawn
  • Disruption of animals’ breeding cycle is more serious. Garden lighting is thought partly to blame for the decline of glow-worms; these emit low, greenish light to attract mates
  • Dim lights, such as solar powered lights, are less likely to affect wildlife

Minimising impact

  • Ask yourself whether you really need lighting
  • Lessen the effects of lighting by positioning lights as low as possible and aiming lights responsibly
  • Turn garden lights off when not in use or use motion sensors or timers for essential or security lighting
  • Hoods can also direct the light downwards to reduce light pollution of the night sky
  • Choose low-intensity lighting: solar lighting is cheap, safe and emits a dull glow suitable for garden use

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