Move to create Europe′s largest dark sky preserve in Northumberland

Star trails over Kielder observatory


It’s not just in Texas where the stars at night shine deep and bright.


Image: ′Star Trails over Kielder Observatory. Credit Mike Dickson.′ 
Video: time-lapse made by amateur astronomy Martin Whipp of the night sky over Northumberland. You are free to embed or link to. Go to:

Exciting moves have been revealed to create what would be the third largest area of protected starry dark sky in the world in deepest Northumberland.

Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust and Northumberland National Park Authority are consulting on securing dark sky status for nearly 400 square miles of spectacular countryside in England′s wildest county.

The prestigious designation is awarded by the International Dark Skies Association (IDA), based in Tucson, USA.

Worldwide there are just 12 such preserves, including the two largest in Big Bend National Park, Texas, and Mount Megantic in Quebec, Canada.

Project chiefs are in talks with residents, parish councils and businesses to explain the proposals and gauge feedback before any application is made.

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.

But what would it mean for local people and businesses?

Elisabeth Rowark, Director of the Kielder Water & Development Trust, explained:

“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. We are already benefiting from dark sky tourism in the shape of the successful £450,000 Kielder Observatory, which has drawn 30,000 people since opening in 2008. Star camps also attract hundreds of observers every year.

“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.”

Northumberland has more dark skies than anywhere else in England, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).**

The Milky Way stretches from horizon-to-horizon, while galaxies millions of light years away are naked eye objects. But such breath-taking views are becoming a rarity. Light pollution means that over 85% of the UK’s population has never seen a truly dark sky. Even Northumberland is not immune. Between 1993 and 2000 the North East′s area of dark skies shrank by nearly 30%. Since then the spread of light pollution has continued. But it is not too late.

Duncan Wise, who is leading the Dark Sky Reserve Project for the Northumberland National Park Authority, said:

“Dark Sky status will help us protect the quality of the night sky. With public support we believe we can make this happen. It will be a spur to sustainable tourism, help cut energy costs and benefit nocturnal wildlife.”

Since the start of the year Forestry Commission wildlife rangers, stargazers from Kielder Observatory and Newcastle astronomical societies, National Park Rangers and volunteers have taken hundreds of light metre readings across the proposed dark sky area on clear moonless nights. Readings confirm that the North East retains some of England’s darkest skies.

The National Park Authority has written to all National Park residents explaining the process and inviting comments on a proposed core zone to be protected from light pollution in the darkest part of the park. Meetings with parish councils are also being held.

Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust will also write to Kielder residents seeking their views on the plans, following discussions with Kielder Parish Council. Byrness and Rochester and Stonehaugh Parish Councils are supporting the plans, as are many local businesses. Open Nights for local people have also been staged by Kielder Observatory to express its keen commitment for the move.

Duncan Wise added:

“We want to build a consensus and shape our plans with the public. But what a fantastic opportunity we have to protect our cherished skies. No one benefits from poor lighting. It takes away the beauty of the night sky, often disturbs sleep patterns and can have a negative impact on our wildlife. By acting now we can protect the special quality of the National Park that is valued by residents and visitors alike for future generations to enjoy.”

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Northumberland National Park
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Pam Warhurst, Forestry Commission England Chair, said:

“I really hope Kielder Forest and the surrounding area can secure this fantastic international honour. Woodlands and forests are great places to appreciate nature in the daytime and as night falls and the stars begin to appear, being away from lights makes them a more vivid and spectacular sight. The wonderful remoteness of Kielder Water & Forest Park has meant we have been able to encourage people to gaze at the stars there for nearly 15 years.”

Joyce Taylor, Chair of Byrness Parish Council, said:

“We want better and less intrusive street lighting. The fixtures we currently have are old and spill light straight into peoples’ bedrooms. Dark sky status will help us retain the rural and tranquil character of our community. It will also help put us on the map for travellers for whom a starry night creates such vivid memories.”

Anne Hutchinson, Chair of Wark Parish Council, 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."

What are designated dark sky areas?

Dark Sky areas are parks or other public land with exceptional starry skies and natural nocturnal habitats where light pollution is mitigated and natural darkness is valuable as an important educational, cultural, scenic, and natural resource.

Dark Sky Parks usually have one or a small number of land owners with lighting control over the area.

Dark Sky Reserves have a large number of owners and have a dark core surrounded by buffer areas where partners are keen to engage with the dark skies promotion.

What do we need to do?

To attain Dark Sky Park and Dark Sky Reserve status it is necessary to demonstrate a commitment to minimising light pollution.

The application process requires an audit to be carried out of all outside lights in Kielder Water & Forest Park and the proposed darkest core zone of the Northumberland National Park Dark Sky Reserve over the next few months. This is to provide evidence to the IDA of the percentage of external light units that are already compliant, ie that are low wattage, or are installed correctly with no wasted light being emitted upwards into the night sky. We may already be dark sky friendly, but we won’t know until we have completed the audit.

A Lighting Management Plan is also required for both the Dark Sky Park and Reserve. This will ensure that new lighting is both night sky friendly and designed to provide good and effective lighting where it is required.

International Dark Sky Association

The IDA is the leading organisation combating light pollution worldwide. The IDA awards the designations of ‘Dark Sky Reserve’ or Dark Sky Park’ to those wilder places that demonstrate an ability to conserve the dark skies above them and are committed to providing opportunities for the public to enjoy them.

Dark Sky Park status for Galloway Forest Park in South West Scotland has created economic spin offs for local business. A new survey of 35 businesses, including guest houses, bed and breakfasts, hotels and self-catering properties, revealed that 77% reported an impact on the number of bed nights as a result of the Dark Sky Park. Tourism chiefs believe Northumberland can repeat and advance on this success. 

Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust is a registered charity working to develop the Park as an inspirational place. It aims to improve economic, social and environmental sustainability, provide public recreation and leisure facilities, facilitate education in all aspects of the natural environment and advance art and architecture in the Park. The Trust works with the range of communities to benefit from these activities. Members, who have appointed directors/trustees to serve on the board, are Northumbrian Water, Forestry Commission, Calvert Trust Kielder and Northumberland County Council. Affiliate organisations that are not members but have a close working relationship with KWFPDT include Arts Council England, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency, The Scout Association and local decision making bodies such as the parish councils. 

Northumberland National Park encompasses the landscape and cultural heritage of 405 square miles (105,000 hectares) - over a fifth of Northumberland from Hadrian’s Wall to the Scottish border, and adjoins Kielder Water & Forest Park along its western boundary. With the help of our dedicated volunteers the National Park Authority looks after more than 1100 kms of Rights of Way - including two national trails and a number of long distance walking, cycling and horse riding trails, and the central, most visited section of Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. 32 Sites of Special Scientific Interest covering over 10,000 hectares, one Ramsar Site; three National Nature Reserves and 6 European Special Areas of Conservation fall within the boundary of the National Park. We are also home to one of the country’s official Dark Sky Discovery Sites (Cawfields) and are part of the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership. We work with farmers and landowners to maintain healthy soils, clean water and dark skies, to enhance wildlife habitats and help rural businesses adapt to climate change. We are supporting sustainable enterprises, transport and green tourism and encouraging domestic and community-scale renewable energy. We have also invested in a network of electric vehicle charging points at keys places in the National Park and along Hadrian’s Wall as part of a network installed around the North East.  

**CPRE: Night Blight Report. For a PDF go to

Media calls:
Kielder Water & Forest Park
Richard Darn on 0775 367 0038
Philippa Clark
on 0191 301 5538

Northumberland National Park - Francis Whitehead or Duncan Wise on 01434 605555

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