Town & Country
Go dark to see the starry skies
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