Famous observatory backs dark sky plans

Venus and Jupiter setting, taken from Kielder campsite by Neill and Karen Sanders, from Darlington.
Venus and Jupiter setting, taken from Kielder campsite by Neill and Karen Sanders, from Darlington.

One of the UK’s most prestigious astronomical institutions has thrown its weight behind a bid to gain protected status for Northumberland’s stunning dark skies.

Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, Northumberland National Park Authority and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society are working on the plan to create Europe’s biggest area of protected night sky in the region.

And in a boost to the bid, the world-famous Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics is keen to support the initiative.

Centre director, Professor Albert Zijlstra, said: “In much of the UK the night sky is now too bright to be able to see the Milky Way. The few remaining dark sites should be protected as a valuable resource able to inspire the next generation.”

Gary Fildes, director of Kielder Observatory, was delighted with the support from the centre.

He said: “This kind of backing is vital in demonstrating to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) that we have a long-term commitment to protecting our skies and maintaining the tranquillity of our rural environment.

“The night sky in Northumberland and especially around the observatory still maintains that true darkness that can ignite and inspire all who see it.”

A key element in the application process to the IDA has now been completed. An external lighting audit covering nearly all of Kielder Water & Forest Park and 140 square miles of the adjoining Northumberland National Park has revealed that nearly 80 per cent of external lights comply with the strict rules laid down by the IDA.

Bid chiefs are delighted with this initial finding, but want to see that figure rise above 80 per cent to further strengthen the application.

The audit shows where changes could be made to achieve extra compliance and building owners will be approached to see how they can help tackle light polluting fixtures.

Dark Sky status would embrace up to 400 square miles of Northumberland, with Kielder Water & Forest Park becoming England’s first Dark Sky Park, and Northumberland National Park being designated Europe’s largest Dark Sky Reserve.

Light-meter readings have shown that parts of the county retain some of England’s starriest skies, but light pollution is encroaching.