Northumberland bids to create one of the world's biggest dark sky preserves
Thursday 24 May 2012
Plans have been laid to create one of the world's biggest dark sky preserves in England's most remote corner.
Managers at Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust and Northumberland National Park Authority hope to attract visitors to the wild Border country to appreciate the inky black of a moonless night.
Worsening light pollution means fewer Britons than ever have been able to enjoy the spectacular sight of countless stars.
The public will be consulted in Northumberland National Park on plans to protect 400 square miles of countryside from poor lighting which destroys the night vista.
Should residents agree, it will earn the designation from the International Dark Skies Association, based in Tucson, US.
Worldwide there are only 12 such preserves, and Northumberland would become the third biggest.
Those behind the project will talk to residents, parish councils and businesses to explain the proposals and gauge feedback before applying.
A spokesman said: "If successful, Kielder Water & Forest Park would become England's first dark sky park, while adjoining Northumberland National Park would be Europe's largest dark sky reserve - both committed to reducing light pollution and engaging the public about our dark skies."
Elisabeth Rowark, director of the Kielder Water & Development Trust, said: "Northumberland is a magical place both by night and day.
"Dark sky status would allow us to protect, cherish and promote our natural nightscapes.
"But gaining public support is the key."
She said 30,000 tourists have already visited Kielder's £450,000 observatory since it opened in 2008 and star camps also attract hundreds of observers every year.
She added: "It's crucial to understand that dark sky status does not mean turning lights off.
"Rather it is about working with people and Northumberland County Council to create better and less wasteful lighting and promoting the night sky as an asset for the region."
Anne Hutchinson, chair of Wark Parish Council in Northumberland, said: "People don't want to see light pollution, whether it is from poor street lights or inappropriate external lights.
"It's not in keeping with the character of the area.
"My son lives in London and every time he returns on a clear night he stands at the entrance to our farm to marvel at the stars.
"For him and many other people it's all part of the special quality of living in the Stonehaugh area."
John Wilson, who owns Whitelee Farm, near Carter Bar in the Northumberland National Park, said: "We've got three holiday cottages and such has been the growth in interest in stargazing that we now put binoculars and star charts in the rooms for guests.
"The National Park has taken light metre readings on the farm which confirms what we can see with our naked eye - that we have glorious dark skies which are a major draw to visitors.
"Getting dark sky status would be a great way of promoting tourism, as well as preserving something very special about our landscape."
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