Town & Coun­try

Go dark to see the starry skies

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

ON a clear night, Bri­tain’s dark skies are out of this world. They ap­pear pep­pered with shin­ing stars, con­stel­la­tions, me­te­ors and plan­ets. The bur­geon­ing pop­u­lar­ity of these starry skies is mir­rored by an ever-ex­pand­ing cal­en­dar of star-gazing events that in­clude last week’s Isle of Wight Star Party (www.iow­starparty.org), Astro­camp (April 22–25, http:// astro­camp.awe­someas­tron­omy.com) and Jo­drell Bank’s Blue­dot Fes­ti­val (July 7–9, www.dis­cover­the­blue­dot.com).

The clar­ity of the night skies, how­ever, is de­pen­dent on earthly lo­ca­tion. In an area of low light pol­lu­tion, as many as 3,000 stars may be seen, but, in ur­ban lo­ca­tions, that num­ber can plum­met to just 20.

In the past half cen­tury, Bri­tain’s night skies have de­te­ri­o­rated dra­mat­i­cally, of­ten with dis­as­trous con­se­quences for the en­vi­ron­ment and wildlife. Mil­lions of mi­grat­ing birds, for ex­am­ple, die ev­ery year af­ter be­com­ing dis­ori­ented by bright lights.

In an at­tempt to re­v­erse this trend, ar­eas within the UK have been seek­ing to gain pres­ti­gious dark-sky sta­tus from the In­ter­na­tional Dark-sky As­so­ci­a­tion (IDA). With strin­gent cri­te­ria to ful­fil, to date, only Northum­ber­land, the Elan Val­ley and Gal­loway have be­come Dark-sky Parks, with the Bre­con Bea­cons, Ex­moor, Snow­do­nia and the South Downs Na­tional Park awarded Dark-sky Re­serve sta­tus. The Scot­tish town of Mof­fat, as well as the is­lands of Coll and Sark, have be­come Dark Sky Com­mu­ni­ties.

‘It’s in­cred­i­ble to see how ar­eas with a dark-sky sta­tus have made such a dif­fer­ence, not only in terms of pro­tect­ing the last ar­eas of truly dark skies in the UK, but re­vers­ing the dam­ag­ing ef­fects of light pol­lu­tion—which is light that’s wasted by not shin­ing on the ground,’ says Ruth Coulthard, Dark Sky Re­serve man­ager for the Bre­con Bea­cons, who is also as­sist­ing with the Cran­borne Chase AONB’S bid for Dark Sky Re­serve sta­tus. ‘The fact that peo­ple now flock to these des­ti­na­tions to en­joy star par­ties and am­a­teur as­tron­omy and that ecol­o­gists have wit­nessed an im­prove­ment in bio­di­ver­sity is cer­tain proof that pro­tect­ing our night sky is a “win-win” for ev­ery­one.’ Julie Hard­ing

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