Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water and Forest Park, a combined area of 580 square miles, has been given gold-tier Dark Sky Park status for its lack of light pollution. It is the first area in England, and the largest in Europe, to gain this award, and it is hoped the area’s new status will attract visitors keen to experience the wonder of the full night sky ablaze with stars.
Dark Sky Park status is awarded by the International Dark-Sky Association and comes in various grades including ‘dark sky reserves’ and ‘dark sky communities’, Other designated Dark Sky areas in the UK include parts of Dumfries and Galloway, the Brecon Beacons, Exmoor and Sark in the Channel Islands. The Elan Valley area in mid-Wales has recently put in a bid to become a Dark Sky Park. All these areas have taken steps to limit light pollution and in Northumberland, there are plans to replace up to 16,000 sodium street lights with dimmable LED lighting.
The Brecon Beacons received its designation a year ago and became only the world’s fifth International Dark Sky Reserve. The global network of dark sky areas is steadily growing as the importance of limiting light pollution is increasingly recognised.
Although the tourism angle is important, the vital point about these areas is the commitment to maintain a low level of light pollution. Commenting on the Northumberland award, Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, said: “All humans throughout history have looked up at the night sky and wondered at it. This experience is now denied to most people because of the background light in towns and cities. It is important to ensure that there is somewhere in England where young people can fully enjoy a cosmic panorama”.
By Jessica Tradati