Monday, 9 December 2013 10:41 AM
Northumberland National Park has today been named as the largest area of protected night sky in Europe.
The International Dark Skies Association (IDA), based in Tucson, USA, granted Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status to the combined areas of Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park – covering nearly 1,500 square kilometres between Hadrian's Wall and the Scottish border.
The new zone – which will be called the Northumberland Dark Sky Park (NDSP) – is the first of its kind in England and one of the largest in the world.
It joins the likes of Death Valley and Big Bend Dark Sky Parks in the USA.
Gold tier designation is the highest accolade that the IDA can bestow, and will help to preserve the pristine skies for future generations; countering the rise of light pollution.
The Northumberland National Park Authority, Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society also hope to “develop sustainable astro tourism, boost nocturnal wildlife and create a model for high quality, safe and eco-friendly public lighting.”
Over 300 light meter readings were taken over a two year period – as part of the parks’ Dark Skies campaign – by National Park volunteers, amateur astronomers and Forestry Commission rangers, confirming Northumberland retains England's largest extent of starry skies due to low levels of light pollution.
Elisabeth Rowark, Chair of the Northumberland Dark Skies Working Group and Director of the Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, said: "We have worked so hard together to reach this tremendous day for everyone committed to securing protection for England's largest area of starry skies. We have a wonderful story to tell in terms of our public astronomy outreach and the success of the Kielder Observatory. But this designation as Europe's largest Dark Sky Park will be a springboard allowing us to do even more. We do not want to turn off the lights, but rather encourage better lighting using the latest technology. This is the start of a new chapter for Northumberland where quite literally the sky is the limit."
Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal for England, added: "I'd like to offer warm support to this development. It is a further boost for Kielder Observatory and stargazing throughout Northumberland National Park. But, more than that, it should have the support of a far wider community than astronomers. The dark night sky is the most universal feature of our environment. All humans, everywhere in the world and throughout history, have looked up at the 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 will be somewhere in England where young people can fully enjoy a cosmic panorama."
Dark Sky Discovery Sites will be created across Northumberland Dark Sky Park, providing places like Cawfields, managed by the Northumberland National Park, on Hadrian's Wall, where people can pull in and admire the skies aided by on-site interpretation. A total of 13 potential sites have been identified.
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