Dark Skies in the UK

From our biggest cities to the darkest tip of Scotland, we’re running community activities and setting up Dark Sky Parks and Discovery Sites to help people enjoy their local night sky.

The UK has both some of the most light-polluted skies in Europe and some of the darkest, and throughout the International Year of Astronomy 2009 we want to bring as many people as possible to their dark skies.

The Dark Skies Awareness cornerstone project of IYA2009 will be delivered in the UK through two side-by-side programmes: Dark Sky Parks and Dark Sky Discovery

Dark Sky Parks

There are 14 national park authorities in the UK, along with many other parks, including Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and Forest Parks. We are co-ordinating an effort with many partnership organisations to begin monitoring the darkness of the skies above the UK parks, with the eventual goal being the application to the IDA for a Dark Sky Park or Reserve – the UK’s (and Europe’s?) first.

The key partners in this programme are The Campaign for Dark Skies (CfDS) which was set up in 1989 to counter the ever-growing tide of skyglow which has tainted the night sky over Britain since the 1950s, and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), the champions of the English Countryside who, through their Night Blight project, have been campaigning to keep England’s rural skies dark. Both of these groups petition government to protect the UK’s skies dark.

Amongst the parks that are at the forefront of the UK’s Dark Sky Parks efforts are Galloway Forest Park in the southwest of Scotland and with some of the UK’s darkest skies, Exmoor National Park in the southwest of England, and the Peak District National Park which was the UK’s first national park in 1951.

Each of these parks has am excellent dark sky resource relative to the population that they serve. Galloway and Exmoor, being more remote, have incredibly dark skies, while the Peak District, situated between two large cities in the centre of England attracts 22 million visitors a year.

Beginning now, these parks have teamed up with their local amateur astronomical societies to begin measuring and mapping their dark skies, using Sky Quality Meters and digital photography. Once the initial data is in early 2009, these parks will begin to plan the next step, ultimately leading to an application to the IDA for Dark Sky Park or Reserve status.

Dark Sky Discovery

It’s not just the dark parks in the UK that we are concentrating on; we are also looking to work with community groups in towns and cities, helping them to identify their darkest place. These Dark Sky Discovery Sites will be identified and used by people within those communities.

Throughout the UK we are developing 11 Dark Sky Partnerships, networks between amateur and professional astronomers, science centres, universities, community groups and more, and each of these 11 regions will be working to identify their own urban Dark Sky Discovery Site. This UK programme is based on the successful Dark Sky Scotland initiative www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk.