Forest chief backs dark skies bid as tourism body reports surging visitor interest

Pam

22 August 2012

The Chair of Forestry Commission, Pam Warhurst, has praised Kielder′s soaring ambitions after visiting Kielder Observatory to support a bid to create Europe′s largest area of protected night sky in Northumberland.

Image: Forestry Commission Chair Pam Warhurst at Kielder Observatory with the founding director of the facility, Gary Fildes. Credit Mark Pinder unless stated.

The Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, Northumberland National Park Authority and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society (KOAS) are preparing a bid to the Tucson-based International Dark Sky Association which if successful would help promote and preserve the biggest area of dark skies left anywhere in England and help minimise wasteful light pollution.**

Built high above Kielder village the £450,000 observatory has proved a massive hit with the public since opening in 2008, attracting nearly 35,000 visitors. It will soon be re-equipped with even more powerful telescopes.

Pam Warhurst said:

"The observatory is an inspiring place and a tremendous asset to the whole North East and Borders. The night sky is a very precious resource which in many areas of England has become a pale shadow of its former starry self because of light pollution. The bid to designate a dark sky area linking Kielder Water & Forest Park with the Northumberland National Park, while also engaging communities and visitors in explaining the wonders of the night sky, is truly exciting. At Kielder the Forestry Commission has worked hard to create vibrant wildlife habitats and this project will enhance another vital aspect of our natural environment - the night sky."

Partners in the Dark Sky bid have consulted councils, businesses and the public in the proposed dark sky areas.

If successful Kielder Water & Forest Park would become England′s first Dark Sky Park and Northumberland National Park would be Europe′s most extensive Dark Sky Reserve. Reaction has been very positive, but consultations continue to refine the plans and boundaries.

A funding package is now being finalised to undertake the required lighting audits, which will help identify where more dark sky friendly lighting could be installed.

Gary Files, first director of the Kielder Observatory, and a founding member of the Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society, added:

"It was a thrill to have Pam Warhurst at the observatory and she was impressed by what′s been achieved in this fabulous corner of England. The facility - underpinned by the hard work of KOAS volunteers - has been the catalyst for much that has happened in terms of the dark sky bid. If we are successful in gaining added protection for the area it will create a long-lasting legacy enabling future generations to enjoy the wonderful starry sky that inspired me and my fellow stargazers."

Meanwhile, Northumberland Tourism report that news of the bid has already sparked an increase in enquiries from people wishing to visit the county. Chief Executive, Giles Ingram, explained:

"Since the bid was announced we have had a number of enquiries from the media and national travel trade, as well as expressions of interest from visitors. It simply goes to demonstrate the genuine interest and value placed on attaining such status. This is a superb opportunity for the tourism industry."

To find out more about the Dark Skies bid visit www.visitkielder.com or post your views at http://www.facebook.com/kielder/app_202980683107053

Notes to Editor

1. As part of the application process for Dark Sky status light meter readings have been taken across Northumberland. They confirm that the area retains probably the darkest skies anywhere in England, but light pollution is growing, particularly around the edges of the forest and National Park. (Average reading for Kielder Water & Forest Park was 21.5 - the maximum reliable reading using this scale is 22. That means thousands of stars are visible, as opposed to a just a handful from towns and cities).

As part of the application process for Dark Sky status light meter readings have been taken across Northumberland. They confirm that the area retains probably the darkest skies anywhere in England, but light pollution is growing, particularly around the edges of the forest and National Park. (Average reading for Kielder Water & Forest Park was 21.5 - the maximum reliable reading using this scale is 22. That means thousands of stars are visible, as opposed to a just a handful from towns and cities).

2. 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.

3. 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 kilometres 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. www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk. ¬†

**CPRE: Night Blight Report. Go to www.cpre.org.uk

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

Northumberland National Park, Frances Whitehead or Duncan Wise on 01434 605555

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