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Northumberland could be home to Europe’s largest dark sky preserve

Other posts by  |  May 24, 2012 | 0 Comments
A dark sky illuminated by the moon at Cawfield Crags, Northumberland National Park

A dark sky illuminated by the moon at Cawfield Crags, Northumberland National Park

Desire to create Dark Sky Park in North East England

Deepest Northumberland in the North of England could soon be home to the third largest area of protected starry dark sky in the world.

Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust and Northumberland National Park Authority are consulting on securing dark sky status for nearly 400 square miles of spectacular countryside in England’s wildest county.

The prestigious designation is awarded by the International Dark Skies Association (IDA), based in Tucson, USA. Worldwide there are just 12 such preserves, including the two largest in Big Bend National Park, Texas, and Mount Megantic in Quebec, Canada.

Project chiefs are in talks with residents, parish councils and businesses to explain the proposals and gauge feedback before any application is made.

England’s darkest skies are in Northumberland

If successful, Kielder Water & Forest Park would become England’s first Dark Sky Park, while adjoining Northumberland National Park would be Europe’s largest Dark Sky Reserve – both committed to reducing light pollution and engaging the public about our dark skies.

But what would it mean for local people and businesses? Elisabeth Rowark, Director of the Kielder Water & Development Trust, explained: “Northumberland is a magical place both by night and day. Dark Sky status would allow us to protect, cherish and promote our natural nightscapes.  But gaining public support is the key.  We are already benefiting from dark sky tourism in the shape of the successful £450,000 Kielder Observatory, which has drawn 30,000 people since opening in 2008.  Star camps also attract hundreds of observers every year.

“It’s crucial to understand that Dark Sky status does not mean turning lights off.  Rather it is about working with people and Northumberland County Council to create better and less wasteful lighting and promoting the night sky as an asset for the region.”

Northumberland has more dark skies than anywhere else in England, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The Milky Way stretches from horizon-to-horizon, while galaxies millions of light years away are naked eye objects. But such breath-taking views are becoming a rarity due to the amount of light shining in cities and towns around the globe.  This is called light pollution. In the UK, light pollution means that over 85% of the population has never seen a truly dark sky.  Even Northumberland is not immune.  Between 1993 and 2000 the North East’s area of dark skies shrank by nearly 30%.  Since then the spread of light pollution has continued. But it is not too late.

Duncan Wise, who is leading the Dark Sky Reserve Project for the Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “Dark Sky status will help us protect the quality of the night sky. With public support we believe we can make this happen. It will be a spur to sustainable    tourism, help cut energy costs and benefit nocturnal wildlife.”

Since the start of the year Forestry Commission wildlife rangers, stargazers from Kielder Observatory and Newcastle astronomical societies, National Park Rangers and volunteers have taken hundreds of light metre readings across the proposed dark sky area on clear moonless nights.  Readings confirm that the North East retains some of England’s darkest skies.

The National Park Authority has written to all National Park residents explaining the process and inviting comments on a proposed core zone to be protected from light pollution in the darkest part of the park.   Meetings with parish councils are also being held.

Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust will also write to Kielder residents seeking their views on the plans, following discussions with Kielder Parish Council.  Byrness and Rochester and Stonehaugh Parish Councils are supporting the plans, as are many local businesses. Open Nights for local people have also been staged by Kielder Observatory to express its keen commitment for the move.

Duncan added: “We want to build a consensus and shape our plans with the public. But what a fantastic opportunity we have to protect our cherished skies.  No one benefits from poor lighting.  It takes away the beauty of the night sky, often disturbs sleep patterns and can have a negative impact on our wildlife. By acting now we can protect the special quality of the National Park that is valued by residents and visitors alike for future generations to enjoy.”

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