BODIES managing two national parks are set to bid to join a family of landscapes, including those of the Alpes Azur Mercantour in France and Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, in New Zealand, as among the best places on the planet for star-gazing.

Members of the North York Moors National Park Authority will consider launching a separate bid to its Yorkshire Dales counterpart for recognition from the International Dark Sky Association later this year to join 16 places worldwide as a designated Dark Sky Reserve.

The two park bodies already work closely together on the Dark Skies Festival, which last year attracted about 8,000 people and showed an economic benefit of almost £300,000 over two weeks in the North York Moors alone.

As stargazing takes place in autumn, winter and spring, it is hoped being granted the same status as Cévennes National Park, in France, Mont-Mégantic in Quebec and River Murray in Australia will boost North Yorkshire’s economy by bringing thousands of visitors to the areas in the low tourist season months.

To achieve the status, the parks will have to prove they have “an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment”.

The reserves would consist of a core area meeting minimum criteria for sky quality and natural darkness, and a peripheral area that supports dark sky preservation in the core.

Alongside proving that the parks meet the criteria, the bids will need to be backed by local communities to demonstrate support dark sky conservation efforts.

A report to a meeting of the North York Moors authority next week states it has already completed many of the criteria, and with funding from the Sirius Mineral’s potash mine near Whitby £100,000 of grants would be offered to tackle light pollution over the next two years.

The national park has seen significant reductions in light pollution in recent years with North Yorkshire County Council committing to ensure that all street lighting installed by the authority in the park will be “dark skies friendly”, meaning it will have a lower colour temperature and zero upward light spill.

The report states: “Without this promotional asset, the risk is that the national park will be overlooked as a stargazing destination in favour of areas which have achieved the distinction.

“Protecting Dark Skies has multiple benefits that touch many functions of the national park and our objectives. Astro tourism is the obvious one with associated out of

season benefit. Added to this, lighting improvements also help climate change

through energy reduction, improve feelings of tranquillity, deliver ecological benefits

by reducing impact on wildlife and even help protect human health.”

Jim Bailey, chairman of the park authority, said: “As society gets more and more cluttered, the value of darkness is something that is quite easily lost, so it is good to be able to do something about it. It is about raising awareness too.

“When I was a kid the preciousness of darkness was never really considered. Now we have become so thick on the ground the special quality of darkness that the North Yorks Moors has has become much more obvious.”