Northumberland to be given protected Dark Sky Park status

The Northern Echo: Star trails over Kielder Observatory, Northumberland Star trails over Kielder Observatory, Northumberland

STARGAZERS could soon be flocking to the North-East after it was announced a remote corner of the region is to get official recognition for the quality of its night sky.

Some 580 square miles of Northumberland countryside is to be given protected Dark Sky Park status, the largest in Europe.

The US-based International Dark Skies Association (IDA) has granted Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status to the combined areas of Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water and Forest Park, between Hadrian’s Wall and the Scottish border.

The new zone, which will be called the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, is the first of its kind in England.

It is one of the largest in the world, joining the likes of Death Valley and Big Bend Dark Sky Parks in America and the gold tier designation is the highest accolade that the IDA can bestow.

It means the spread of light pollution will be halted, as people will be encouraged to fit more sophisticated outdoor lighting to homes.

TV impressionist Jon Culshaw, an amateur astronomer, said: “The site of Kielder observatory is a truly magnificent dark sky area.

“Having filmed an episode of The Sky at Night there, it was incredible witness light levels fall to such a depth that you would swear the stars were casting shadows.

“It’s a sad thought that such genuinely dark sky sites are becoming increasingly rare.

“We must value them, preserve them and ensure they can be enjoyed by as many visitors as possible who may take in the majesty of a spectacularly non-light polluted night sky.”

The award could boost tourism as stargazers venture to the North East to get away from the glare of the city.

The bid for protected status has taken two years, and has been spearheaded by Northumberland National Park Authority, Kielder Water and Forest Park Development Trust and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society.

Elisabeth Rowark, chairwoman of the Northumberland Dark Skies Working Group and director of the Kielder Water and 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 Europes largest Dark Sky Park will be a springboard allowing us to do even more.”

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