Exmoor, Europe’s First International Dark Sky Reserve
Exmoor National Park in the SW of England has just been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve, Europe’s first, by the International Dark Skies Association. This follows three years of work by park authorities, local astronomers, lighting engineers and the resident community, and is a huge achievement.
I first met Emma Dennis, the landscape officer for Exmoor National Park Authority who led the whole process, in 2008 when I brought the idea to her that Exmoor’s dark skies and favourable weather made it an ideal site for a dark sky reserve.
There followed months of painstaking dark sky surveys, some of the most detailed that have been carried out in the UK, as well as the creation of a strict set of lighting controls governing all new developments within the national park.
Amateur astronomers have long known that the skies above Exmoor offer something special – a unique combination of low levels light pollution and regular clear nights, as can be seen in this map produced by the Campaign for Dark Skies.
Dr Nigel Stone, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park said: “We are delighted that the importance of dark skies, one of Exmoor National Park’s special qualities has received this international recognition and we would like to thank all those who have helped in achieving this International Dark Sky Reserve award. We look forward to welcoming many more visitors in the future to enjoy the starlit skies at night as well as the spectacular scenery Exmoor has to offer during the day.”
This designation was sought for two main reasons: 1. the park authority, working with the Campaign to Protect Rural England, recognises and values tranquility as a key asset, and a dark sky is part of that mission; and 2. there is a real opportunity for Exmoor National Park to extend its tourist season right through the winter months using the dark skies to attract astrotourism, something already being done by Sark and Galloway Forest Park.
Exmoor’s designation now means that the UK has a “full-house” of IDA designations – the only country in the world to have this – in that it has a Dark Sky Park (Galloway Forest Park), a Dark Sky Community (Sark) and a Dark Sky Reserve (Exmoor). The differences between these designations are important. The Dark Sky Park designation is intended for parks with little or no population (the model being US National Parks). Dark Sky Community status is aimed at communities – towns, cities, islands – that want to preserve their night sky. And Dark Sky Reserve status, while meant for large parks also, allows communities to exists within the Reserve, surrounding a dark sky core, which is strictly protected, while public engagement and awareness raising of the issues of light pollution spreads from that core to the surrounding reserve.
Congratulations to all at Exmoor National Park, especially Emma Dennis, who had the vision to make this possible, who have protected Exmoor’s skies from light pollution and preserved them for future generations of stargazers.
|Dark Sky Place||Designation||Date Achieved||Area||Dark Sky Readings (SQM-L)|
|Galloway Forest Park||International Dark Sky Park||Nov 2009||780 km2||21.3 – 21.9|
|Sark, Channel Islands||International Dark Sky Community||Jan 2011||6 km2||21.3 – 21.4|
|Exmoor National Park||International Dark Sky Reserve||Oct 2011||692 km2||21.2 – 21.8|
You can read the press release from Exmoor National Park Authority here.