Posts Tagged ‘dark sky park’

Stargazing Hotel Breaks And Cruises 2015

December 20, 2014 3 comments

In 2015 I’m delighted to be hosting a range of stargazing events, from stargazing weekend breaks under some of the UK’s darkest skies, to a cruise to one of the most remote islands in the world, steeped in astronomy history.

Steve Owens’ contribution was perfect. We liked how he joined in with the guests at meals etc and held the group together. He has a gift of being able to convey his knowledge in terms easy to understand.His lecture with slides was really informative and interesting as was the enthusiasm he put into answering our every question or listening to our accounts of minor brushes with stars!!

Here’s a list of the hotels I run stargazing breaks at:

Glenapp Castle, Ballantrae, Scotland (Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park)
Kirroughtree House Hotel, Newton Stewart, Scotland (Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park)
Selkirk Arms Hotel, Kirkcudbright, Scotland (Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park)
Yarn Market Hotel, Dunster, Exmoor (Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve)

And here’s the cruise I’m hosting:

Stargazing and astronomy cruise, 4-22 May 2015, Cape Town to St Helena. On this stargazing tour you will have the opportunity to stargaze from a truly unique place – St Helena. The island is steeped in astronomical history, and you’ll visit the sites of Halley’s observatory (he of comet fame), as well as those of the other astronomers who have visited St Helena over the centuries. Its location near the equator means that virtually every constellation in the sky is visible at one time or another from St Helena, and visitors from the UK will be amazed to see a whole new collection of stars in the southern hemisphere that simply aren’t visible from Europe: the famous Southern Cross, the Magellanic Clouds, and the galactic centre of the Milky Way.

Here’s a list of the weekends I’m running throughout the year. Click the links for the hotels above to find out more or to book!

Stargazing weekend break, 20-22 February 2015, at the Yarn Market Hotel, Dunster, in Exmoor International Dark Sky Reserve

Stargazing weekend break, 13-15 March 2015, at the Selkirk Arms Hotel, Kirkcudbright, near Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park

Stargazing weekend break and Solar Eclipse Special, 20-22 March 2015, Kirkcudbright, near Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park (this weekend break can be extended to a three night stay to watch the partial eclipse of the sun at sunrise on Friday 20 March!)

Stargazing weekend break, 9-11 October 2015, at the Selkirk Arms Hotel, Kirkcudbright, near Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park

Stargazing weekend break, 4-6 December 2015, at Kirroughtree House Hotel, Newton Stewart, in Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park

Stargazing weekend break, 11-13 December 2015, at Kirroughtree House Hotel, Newton Stewart, in Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park



Northumberland and Coll: The Newest International Dark Sky Places

December 9, 2013 2 comments

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) announced today it has designated two new International Dark Sky Places in the UK, including one representing the largest land area of protected night skies in all of Europe. This brings to six the total number of IDA International Dark Sky Places in the UK, second only to the United States.

IDA is proud to recognise Northumberland  Dark Sky Park and Coll Dark Sky Island for their exceptional efforts in helping preserve and promote dark night skies over Britain.  I have worked with both of these areas as a dark skies consultant, advising them on the process of achieving dark sky status. To date this puts the number of dark sky places that I have been heavily involved in to five; more than anyone else in the world, I think!

The reasons for these areas seeking dark sky status are many and varied. Off-season winter astronomy tourism is one main driver, while for councils the economic and environmental benefits of night-sky-friendly zero-waste lighting are paramount. Northumberland County Council have recently announced an investment of £24million to refit all public street lights in the county to energy efficient LED lights, fittings which pay back the initial investment within 6-8 years through reduced operating costs, and which have a significantly reduced carbon footprint, due to their efficiency and the fact that no light is wasted – it all shines down to the ground where it’s meant to be, rather than into the sky.

Stargazers at Cawfields, Northumberland Dark Sky Park

Stargazers at Cawfields, Northumberland Dark Sky Park

Northumberland International Dark Sky Park

A UK National Park and adjacent forestry plantation encompassing nearly 580 square miles (1500 km2) of public lands in northern England, Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park are the first IDA-recognized International Dark Sky Park consisting of two independent parkland units.

Once at the frontier of Roman Britain where Hadrian’s Wall repelled Pictish invaders, Northumberland International Dark Sky Park now serves as a bulwark against the incursion of harmful light pollution into one of the darkest locations in England.

With today’s IDA announcement, National Parks UK and Forestry Commission England adds dark skies to their portfolio of protected natural resources including the largest manmade woodland and reservoir in northern Europe. Kielder Forest provides Britain with 200 million board feet (475,000 m3) of timber annually.

The dark night sky attracts an increasing number of visitors to the region. Kielder Observatory, the UK’s largest and most active public observatory, widely promotes local astronomy events and activities. “Dark skies and astronomy have become a passion in the area,” according to Heidi Mottram, Chair of the Kielder Water and Forest Park Development Trust and Chief Executive of Northumbrian Water.

As both Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park began to vie independently for IDA recognition, it quickly became evident that two heads were better than one.  “It made perfect sense to work together to protect one of our greatest assets and make it available to more people,” Mottram said.

Park officials hope that protecting dark skies through the promotion of responsible outdoor lighting will increase the allure of Northumberland as a tourism destination.

“Becoming a Dark Sky Park will reinforce the status of Northumberland as an unspoiled destination offering a true sense of tranquility and wildness – a tonic in this day and age,” said Tony Gates, Chief Executive of Northumberland National Park.

Coll International Dark Sky Island

A sparse population and geographic isolation make the night skies over the Isle of Coll among the darkest in Europe. The island adopted a quality outdoor lighting management plan to ensure Coll remains dark for many future generations of residents and visitors.

Coll lies about six miles (10 km) west of coastal Argyll and hosts just over 200 residents. It attracts dozens of bird species according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which owns an extensive reserve at the west end of the island and hosts one of Coll’s recognized night sky viewing sites on its land. Nature tourism in part draws thousands of visitors to the island each year.

“Achieving dark skies status will be great for the island in many ways,” Julie Oliphant, hotelier at the Coll Hotel, explained. “Not only will it ensure that any future development on the island is done in a way that protects Coll’s natural and unspoiled beauty, but it will also help promote winter tourism.”

Fred Hall of the Argyll and Bute Council echoed the sentiment. “The Isle of Coll is a unique island in many ways, not least of which is its beautiful countryside and sea views but also the lack of light pollution,” he said. “I can think of no better island in the inner Hebrides to gain the Dark Skies accolade.”

Northumberland  is IDA’s thirteenth International Dark Sky Park, while the Isle of Coll becomes the world’s fifth International Dark Sky Community. They join four existing International Dark Sky Places in Britain: Galloway Forest Park in Scotland, Isle of Sark in the Channel Islands, Exmoor National Park in England, and Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales.

If you’re interested in gaining dark sky status for your area, then get in touch!

Stargazing Weekend Breaks 2013-14

October 19, 2013 Leave a comment

There’s a great piece in Guardian Travel today about stargazing breaks in and around Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park. The article was written by Kevin Rushby, who visited the park earlier this year, and who I took out stargazing on a beautiful night.

It really is an amazing place, and on a clear winter’s night you can see thousands of stars, the Milky Way, shooting stars, nebula, galaxies, satellites… and much more.

But for most people the night sky is a confusing place, and having a guide to lead you around is an ideal way to begin stargazing. (Ahem! A good guide book is handy too…) I run regular stargazing weekends and evenings at a number of hotels near Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park (and one down in Exmoor!) over the course of the winter. Here are the dates for the weekends I have planned for this coming winter:

1-3 November 2013 Selkirk Arms Hotel, Kirkcudbright
29 November – 1 December 2013 Kirroughtree House Hotel, Newton Stewart (SOLD OUT)
6-8 December 2013 Kirroughtree House Hotel, Newton Stewart
31 January 2013 – 2 February 2014 Yarn Market Hotel, Exmoor
28 February – 1 March 2014 Kirroughtree House Hotel, Newton Stewart
28-30 March 2014 Selkirk Arms Hotel, Kirkcudbright

I also run bespoke stargazing nights at Glenapp Castle, Ballantrae.

Stargazing Spectacular

March 30, 2012 2 comments

VisitScotland, our national tourism agency, has just released this splendid radio advert to entice people to visit the beautiful Dumfries and Galloway this spring, home to Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park.

Dark Sky Park, credit James Hilder

It’s a perfect time of year for stargazing, if you’re happy to stay up a bit later into the night.

If you’re planning a stargazing visit you’ll need to time your visit well. At night you have to wait until the Sun is far below the horizon (the end of astronomical twilight) and also wait until the Moon has set. The perfect nights for dark sky stargazing in D&G in April 2012 are between 9 and 23 April. On 9 April the skies will be pitch dark between 10:30pm and midnight, when the Moon rises. The hours of darkness grow each night as the Moon rises later and later, until 15 April when darkness lasts from 11pm until 4am. As we’re approaching midsummer the nights are shortening, and so by 23 April it will be properly dark between 11:15pm and 3:15am.

You can see the full range of dark sky stargazing activities on offer in and around D&G on the VisitScotland Stargazing Spectacular website

Exmoor, Europe’s First International Dark Sky Reserve

October 9, 2011 2 comments

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.

The View of the Porlock Vale from Porlock Hill looking over toward Bossington Hill and North Hill taken by Sean Hattersley on the 27/06/06

Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve follows in the footsteps of Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, and Sark Dark Sky Island, both of which I helped to set up.

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.

Best Places for Stargazing in the UK

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.

Clayton Lake Dark Sky Park

September 8, 2011 1 comment

Dark Sky Places Traveling Fellowship Part 4

Thanks to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, I have received a traveling fellowship to visit all of the International Dark Sky Places in North America between 22 August and 03 October 2011. This series of blog posts will detail my visit to each of these  very dark places.

Clayton Lake Dark Sky Park

Clayton Lake Dark Sky Park is the fourth International Dark Sky Place on my tour, and so far the most remote. Nestled in NE New Mexico, about 15 miles from the town of Clayton, this small park has long attracted astronomers to its dark skies.

Clayton Lake

Local high school principal Terrell Jones told me: “I’ve been bringing school kids out here for over twenty years to see the dark skies; it was a way of getting more kids interested in taking science, and of keeping the physics class running. We asked their parents to come with them, and lots of the parents – most of them ranchers who you’d have thought wouldn’t have been interested – started to want to know more.”

One such parent was Art Grine, Clayton’s barber. So taken was he with the wonders of the cosmos that he and his wife enrolled in Terrell Jones’ astronomy night class course, and he’s now president of the newly-formed Clayton Astronomy Club, which looks after the small observatory at Star Point,within the dark sky park. Art’s passions for astronomy – although he’s only been doing it for a few years – is evident, and his infectious enthusiasm is one of the main driving forces behind the success of the dark sky park.

Tourism seems to be a big part of the reasoning behind the dark sky park; much like Mont Megantic Dark Sky Reserve the streets of Clayton are festooned with flags promoting astronomy, the local “what’s on” guide features dark skies prominently, and the local hotels actively promote it. After the observatory was installed and the astronomy club set up, they ran monthly astronomy star parties at the site, and applied for and were awarded Dark Sky Park status (Gold Tier) in 2010.

Clayton, New Mexico

Since then they’ve continued to thrive on the dark sky status. Visitors to the park get sent to Art the Astrobarber who unfailingly arranges a time for them to see through the telescope, of which he is rightly proud.

Star Point Observatory, Clayton Lake

And the skies here are really dark, some of the darkest I’ve seen, with SQM readings of 21.6, and very little sky glow evident in the all sky images I took.

One satisfying story of light pollution mitigation comes from the local prison, the North East New Mexico Detention Facility, which opened in 2008, after the Clayton Lake observatory was built. The lights of the new prison were too bright and badly installed, and a new light dome appeared on the horizon of Clayton Lake. Terrel Jones and Art Grine visited the prison governor to ask whether he might instal shields on the lights, and brought with them an example shielding fixture. So persuasive were they that the governor had the inmates manufacture shields for all the offending lights, and so the light-dome was removed.

Cherry Springs Dark Sky Park

September 5, 2011 2 comments

Dark Sky Places Traveling Fellowship Part 3

Thanks to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, I have received a traveling fellowship to visit all of the International Dark Sky Places in North America between 22 August and 03 October 2011. This series of blog posts will detail my visit to each of these  very dark places.

Cherry Springs Dark Sky Park

Cherry Springs State Park sits in rural Pennsylvania, in the middle of the 1000 square kilometre Susquehannock State Forest, 700m above sea level, and as such is very dark indeed. Much of the park was built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the great depression of the 1930s, and over the years it has gained fame amongst Pennsylvania residents as one of their most popular parks.

The astronomy field at Cherry Springs State Park

My visit was arranged by Chip Harrison, the park operations manager, who first stumbled upon the idea of a dark sky park back in 1997. While patrolling the park late one night he chanced upon an astronomer, Gary Honis, who had set his scope up in what is now the astronomy field. Rather than ask him to leave (parks close at sunset) Chip asked him why he’d come to that specific site, and Gary told him that, using a light pollution map of the eastern US, this spot was the very darkest place he could find.

Light Pollution Map showing Cherry Springs

Inspired by this, Chip worked with astronomers to protect those dark skies, and in 2000 Pennsylvania named it a dark sky park, the designation became more formal in 2007 when it was declared as the world’s second International Dark Sky Park by the IDA.

The astronomy field now sports electric hook-up sites, rentable telescope domes, landscaping and tree planting to block headlights, and attracts thousands of astronomers each year, most of them during two major star parties: the Black Forest Star Party, sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Observers of State College since 1999; and the Cherry Springs Star Party, sponsored by the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg since 2005.

Cherry Springs State Park patch

I arrived at the park just days after the Black Forest Star party closed, but there were some astronomers still on the field, and it was a delight to meet them, including Gary Honis, whom Chip had first met 14 years ago.

The local community seems to relish their unique status, with restaurants and hotels displaying “astronomers welcome” signs, but perhaps the most impressive work has been done by the Cherry Springs Dark Sky Fund, headed up by Chip’s wife Maxine. They work on fundraising through private donations and to date have received tens of thousands of dollars worth of money, much from visiting amateur astronomers, which has allowed them to develop the astronomy field, as well as a public stargazing field across the road where weekly stargazing sessions are held on Friday and Saturday nights.

These astronomy nights are hosted by park ranger Greg, who’s enthusiasm is evident. Just recently they had 500+ people turn up for one of these evenings, far more than they could cope with, but which demonstrates the need for such a programme.

The night I spent stargazing there was a little hazy, and the SQM read 21.4, but I have been assured that they regularly get readings as dark as 21.9, with a naked-eye limiting magnitude of 7.2.

All-sky fisheye image taken from Cherry Springs State Park

Geauga Observatory Dark Sky Park

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Dark Sky Places Traveling Fellowship Part 2

Thanks to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, I have received a traveling fellowship to visit all of the International Dark Sky Places in North America between 22 August and 03 October 2011. This series of blog posts will detail my visit to each of these  very dark places.

Geauga Observatory Dark Sky Park

Situated only 45 minutes east of Cleveland, Geauga Park District is home to 20 separate parks in Geauga County, Ohio, the largest one of which is also the most recent: Observatory Park.

Observatory Park

This 1100 acre recreation park is home to a brand new observatory and astronomy complex, designed to encourage local schools education, and public astronomy.

The construction of this site is nearing completion, having been planned since 2004, and in 2008 the International Dark-skies Association awarded it provisional dark sky park status, a status that last week was upgraded to full International Dark Sky Park status (pdf).

I was guided round the spectacular Observatory Park by Kathleen Hanes, their Dark Sky Co-ordinator, Tom Curtin, their Executive Director, and Bill Murmann, a local amateur astronomer, and shown all of the amazing brand new facilities that will soon be used by local schools and visitors to the park.

Moon Phase Exhibit

Some of the highlights include:

  • a solar system trail (to scale) covering one mile around the perimeter of the observing field (help for which I discovered was given to Geauga District by Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland)
  • a fully-fitted observatory with 25″ scope
  • five concrete platforms with electric hook-ups for setting up portable scopes outdoors
  • a human sundial
  • winter and summer solstice sunrise alignments
  • proposed “stonehenge” stones marking the direction to specific stars in different seasons
  • a good-sized teaching room complete with planetarium dome sunk into the ceiling

Planetarium Dome

In the afternoon I met with the fundraising team, who have, incredibly, raised much of the money for this development through private donations.

My final meeting was with Terry McGowan of the IDA, who gave lots of useful insight into the lighting regulations at Observatory Park.

Astronomy Tourism at Geauga Observatory Dark Sky Park

With such a new facility, the park is still working out exactly what it means for the local tourism community, but one slight snag (in terms of the park generating revenue for the local county) is the lack of places to stay overnight near Geauga. We had to stay in the next county, albeit only twenty minutes drive from the park.

My sense is that the park will thrive on its education programme, which was the real reason for its creation, and that tourism may not feature too heavily, which is a great shame given how stunning a place it is.

Observatory Park Panorama


Craigengillan Dark Sky Observatory

June 21, 2011 7 comments

UPDATE: Voting lines are open! Call 08716268875 to register your support! Calls cost 11p per call from BT landlines. Calls from other networks may be higher and from mobile phones will be considerably more. You can vote up to ten times for each project. You can vote for a project from anywhere in the UK. Calls from outside the UK will not be counted but may still be charged.”

Craigengillan Dark Sky Observatory, soon to be located in the north-east of Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, will open later this year. It is a project by Craigengillan Estate, Renfrewshire Astronomical Society, and Doon Academy, and will be a modern, state-of-the-art public observatory under some of the darkest skies in the UK.

The proposed Craigengillan Dark Sky Observatory

Excitingly this project – or part of it, namely the purchase of a mobile digital planetarium – is one of two projects in the finals of STV’s “The Jubilee People’s Millions“, and between 9am and midnight on Monday 27 June 2011 members of the public will be asked to vote on which project should get funding. If you’re in the UK please make sure you vote!

You can find out more about the observatory, including planning drawings, at the Renfrewshire Astronomical Society website forum.

Craigengillan Observatory Planning Drawing

The Impact of Artificial Light on Bugs

BBC Online have highlighted the praise given to Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park in a report by Buglife, a charity devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates. This praise comes in a report entitled “A Review of the Impact of Artificial Light on Invertebrates” (available to download as a pdf, 33 pages).

Moth attracted to light

Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, which I helped set up in 2009, is mentioned twice in the report:

Areas with natural or near-natural lighting regimes should be officially conserved. Additional Dark Sky Preserve areas should be identified to complement the Galloway Forest Park Dark Sky Preserve. In these areas existing light pollution should be reduced and strict limits and constraints placed on any new lighting. New lighting in natural cave systems should not be permitted and lighting in show caves should be minimised. (p5, 1.2 Recommendations, point 4)


At present our understanding of the extent to which artificial lighting has an effect on invertebrates and the wider environment is poor. Some invertebrates, such as those with superposition eyes (e.g. hawkmoths) are sensitive to even very low light levels. While reducing artificial light and changing lamp types is often beneficial; it is recommended that places with natural or near-natural light regimes should be conserved and created. Galloway Forest Park in southern Scotland became Europe’s first official Dark Sky Preserve with the International Dark-Sky Association in 2009. It is increasingly important that there is more official protection of areas with natural light regimes. Where possible additional Dark Sky Preserve areas should be identified to complement the Galloway Forest Park Dark Sky Preserve. In these areas existing light pollution should be reduced and strict limits and constraints placed on any new lighting.

Artificial lighting should not be installed in natural cave systems. In existing show caves every effort must be made to minimise the amount of time that lighting is on and lamps with a narrow light range between yellow and red should always be used in all areas where colour perception is not necessary.

Lighting necessity should be considered and it kept to a functional minimum in all areas. However, certain locations are likely to be particularly sensitive and artificial lighting in these areas should be carefully planned, reduced or, ideally, totally removed to avoid negatively affecting invertebrates and the environment.

  • Conserve existing areas with natural light regimes and aim to further reduce artificial light levels from the surrounding locations. These areas should be designated as Dark Sky Preserves.
  • Create new areas with natural light regimes. Avoid lighting and reduce/eliminate general light levels in and near areas of known conservation value. This would include areas where Red Data Book listed and UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) species with localised distributions are found, Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Areas that are of conservation value and are home to rare invertebrates and other wildlife include urban settings as well as suburban and rural habitats. Steps should be actively taken to reduce light levels in these areas with the aim that these locations could eventually be designated as Dark Sky Preserves. (p26-27, Section 7.6)

The whole report is worth a read, as it gives yet another good argument against excessive and intrusive outdoor lighting.

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