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Move to join the dark side; PAUL TULLY sheds light on a bid to give an area of Northumberland "Dark Sky" status.


HOW OFTEN have you strolled outdoors on a clear night, gazed up at the skies, and admired the twinkling stars? Well, if your viewing base is the average urban street, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Ground light pollution such as street lamps and house lights reduces night sky visibility to all but a handful of the brightest stars.

Out in an isolated field, well away from street and house lights, you may see more.

However, if you head north, to Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park, then you'll see celestial sights to take the breath away.

The 400 square miles of England's wildest county constitute one of the world's finest and most clearly visible dark sky regions - and this year that status could be rubber-stamped thousands of miles away in the United States.

It is there, in Tucson, Arizona, that the International Dark-Sky Association will judge an application from Northumberland to join the elite list of the world's Dark Sky Reserves and Dark Sky Parks.

A team of local experts has been working on the project for many months and, since announcing the bid in May 2012, has laboured long and hard to prepare the official application. Continued If successful, it will mean Northumberland National Park becomes Europe's largest Dark Sky Reserve, and 18 Kielder

Water & Forest Park becomes England's first Dark Sky Park. The dark sky project, which would bring a massive tourism boost to the area, is a joint initiative between the Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society and Northumberland National Park . Kielder Observatory has played a major part in promoting the night sky qualities of Northumberland since opening in 2008. Director Gary Fildes says: "The night sky in Northumberland and especially around the observatory maintains that true darkness that can ignite and'spire all who see it. "It is our most natural of heritages." The sentiment is echoed by Elisabeth Rowark, director of the Kielder Water & Development Trust. She says: "Northumberland's a magical place, both by night and day. "Dark Sky" status would allow us to protect, cherish and promote our natural nightscapes." And Giles Ingram, chief executive of Northumberland Tourism, added: "Dark Sky" status would underscore the tranquil beauty of Northumberland "Dnd prove an added attraction for visitors." The ambitious bid has involved everyone in the National Park, including businesses and'sidents, who were personally mailed to be informed of what was happening around them. The National Park Authority wrote to the people to explain the process and invite comments on a proposed core zone to be protected from light pollution in the darkest section of the park. Parish councils were also involved, with Byrness and Rochester and Stonehaugh/ Wark plus Kielder, Haltwhistle and Haydon all supporting the bid and eventually figuring in the steering group. Richard Darn of the Forestry Commission said: "The steering group has now been expanded to include the parish councils and the lighting audit has been done. "We now need to carry out some fish-eye night-sky photography as part of the application, which it will take the IDA a couple of months to determine when they get it. "We now expect to get the application in around summertime this year, and the aspiration is for us to get a top-tier grading, but that is for the future. "What is important about our application is that it is the first attempt in From17 the world to create a Dark Sky Park alongside a Dark Sky Reserve." It may all happen just in time to stem the spread of light pollution. Across the North East, including Northumberland, night-sky visibility shrank by 30% between 1993 and 2000, and's Continued to diminish since. Indeed, it is reckoned that 85% of the UKpopulation has never seen a truly dark sky. Duncan Wise, who is leading the Dark Sky Reserve project for 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 tourism, help cut energy costs and benefit nocturnal wildlife. "What a fantastic opportunity we have to protect our cherished skies." For the increasing legion of stargazers, attracted by the existence of the Kielder Observatory, the plus factor is the greater national and international awareness of astronomy in this region. Indeed, next week, 150 amateur astronomers are lined up to attend the Observatory's spring star camp, which runs from Wednesday, March 6 to Monday, March 10. Dr Kevin Fewster, director of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, which is backing the Northumberland bid, said: "The creation of a Dark Sky Reserve in the North East will help increase awareness of astronomy across the region as well as securing access to dark skies for future generations." Forestry Commission chair Pam Warhurst has also added her voice to the praise of the Northumberland initiative. She said: "The bid to designate a dark sky area linking Kielder Water & Forest Park with the Northumberland National Park is truly exciting. "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. "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. "I really hope Kielder Forest and the surrounding area can secure this fantastic international honour. "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." OF the 11 existing Dark Sky Parks across the world, eight are in the United States. , two are in Hungary ... and the other is just across the border in Scotland. Galloway Forest Park in south-west Scotland's designated in 2009 and the boost in trade and tourism since then has been extremely significant. There, a survey of businesses showed that 77% had enjoyed an increase in trade because of the Dark Sky reputation. That is something Northumberland hopes to replicate, not least terms of bed-and-breakfast and hotel trade. And Mr Ingram added: "Since the bid was announced, we have had a number of inquiries 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." The list of Dark Sky Parks is: Dark Skies deliver a boost for trade ? Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah, USA (2006) ? Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania, USA (2008) ? Galloway Forest Park, Scotland (2009) ? Zselic National Landscape Protection Area, Hungary (2009) ? Goldendale Observatory Pa? Clayton Lake State Park, New Mexico, USA (2010) ? Hortobagy National Park, Hungary (2011) ? Observatory Park, Ohio, USA (2011) ? The Headlands, Michigan, USA (2011) ? Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA (2012) ? Death Valley National Park, California, USA (2013) In the table of certified Dark Sky Reserves, Brecon Beacons in Wales has this year become the fifth, alongside Exmoor National Park in Devon. The full list is: ? Mount Megantic, Quebec, Canada (2008) ? Exmoor National Park, Devon and Somerset, UK (2011) ? Aoraki Mackenzie, New Zealand (2012) ? Namib Rand Nature Reserve, Namibia (2012) ?

Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, UK (2013) The certified sites are given gold and silver ratings to signify the level of night-sky clarity in each. the International Dark-Sky Association was formed in 1988 by Dr David Crawford and Dr Tim Hunter to focus international attention on the growing spectre of light pollution. From an initial membership of two, it has grown to have 11,000 members and full-time staff. Now the recognised world authority on light pollution, it estimates $2.2bn a year is wasted in terms of human-produced light pollution in the US alone . In Northumberland, an audit of light levels has revealed nearly 80% of light levels meets the strict criteria of the IDA. Light-meter readings have shown that the darkest pocket in the county is around the isolated Otterburn Ranges. Other good readings have been recorded at Harbottle and Holystone, near Rothbury. Readings peaked at 21.7 (the maximum pitch black is 22), with the bid site average 21.5. Most bright towns deliver a reading of just 17. The IDA declares its mission as "to preserve and protect the night-time environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting". It seeks to reduce total light in the nocturnal environment through densities, warranting, energy codes and controls. One of the factors in the Dark Sky" status application is to demonstrate a commitment to reducing light pollution. And to that end, Northumberland National Park authority even asked residents to adjust lighting angles where possible to mitigate light pollution even further. It has been a major push which, if successful, will bring a massive international boost to a region which is already know worldwide for such icons as Hadrian's Wall and the Northumberland coast. Now, within months, Northumberland could take on a whole new meaning

Dark Sky" status would allow us to protect, cherish and promote our natural


RARE SIGHT Stars over Bellingham
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 27, 2013
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