The most detailed ever satellite maps of England’s light pollution and dark skies, today released by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), have shown that Northumberland is the darkest National Park with 96% of the area having pristine night skies and very little light pollution elsewhere.
The maps, produced using satellite images captured at 1.30 am throughout September 2015, also show that Northumberland as a county came out on top in the darkest category with the highest percentage of night skies free of light pollution at 72%.
The maps provide a very positive picture for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) across England. The mapping found that 53% of England’s dark skies, free of light pollution, are in National Parks and AONBs. The figures indicate that 59% of National Parks have the darkest skies possible, along with 40% of AONB. This shows that designated landscapes cover much of England’s darkest skies and suggests that the designation is helping to protect them.
Whilst Northumberland stands out as an exemplary area, the research comes at a time of increasing awareness of the harmful effects light pollution can have on the health of people and wildlife. That these skies were monitored at 1.30am illustrates just how long into the night England’s lighting spills.
CPRE is calling on local authorities across the country to use the new maps to identify areas with severe light pollution and target action to reduce it, as well as identifying existing dark skies that need protecting.
Northumberland, which received the International Dark Sky Park designation in 2013, is Europe’s largest area of protected night sky at 572 square miles. Due to its perfect skies it has also been awarded gold tier status by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), making it officially the best place in England for people to enjoy the heavens.
Northumberland National Park Authority, a lead member of The Dark Sky Steering Group, which oversaw the application process to secure Dark Sky Park status, is committed to its preservation.
Tony Gates, Northumberland National Park Authority Chief Executive, said: “We welcome today’s CPRE report which supports the objectives in our Park Management Plan to protect our IDA designation.
“In all our planning activities we continually seek opportunities to preserve and improve the situation. This includes offering pre-planning advice, where we advise on how all developments, large and small, can preserve the Dark Sky Park. We also use this opportunity to proactively promote dark sky lighting good practice.
“We continue to work closely with Northumberland County Council to improve the dark skies surrounding the Park and having developed recognised best practices, our own team of experts are also now advising other National Parks and local authorities to support them in improving and preserving dark skies in their areas.”
County councillor and chairman of Northumberland National Park Authority, Glen Sanderson, adds: “We are rightly proud of our dark skies but, like elsewhere, light pollution is a constant threat and we will continue our positive work with Northumberland County Council to improve and minimise light pollution in areas bordering the Park.
“Neighbourhood planning was introduced through the Localism Act in 2011 and gives local communities the opportunity to shape and define how their area should grow and change in the future. A number of new Neighbourhood Plans are currently being developed and it is encouraging to see a growing support for dark sky conservation policies at a local level.”
Communities and local businesses are also benefiting from International Dark Sky Park designation.
Duncan Wise, visitor development and marketing manager at the Northumberland National Park, explains: “The popularity of stargazing in Northumberland has soared with the International Dark Sky Park designation for Northumberland.
“Since 2013 Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park has seen a surge in visitors as public interest in dark skies continues to grow. This is having a tangible and positive impact on the local economy and residents’ quality of life. The increase in visitors has generated lots of new business opportunities for local people. We’ve been working closely with many of them to ensure they get the most from Northumberland’s dark sky status.
“Examples include our partnership with two leading astronomers to deliver a programme of workshops called ‘Star Tips for Profit’, designed to introduce and train one hundred local tourism businesses about dark skies and help them to provide a world-class visitor experience to their guests. 100% of attendees said they would recommend the sessions to other businesses, 90% percent said the workshops would help them attract custom and 40% reported they had already seen a boost from dark skies tourism.
“Meanwhile the North Pennines AONB located just south of Northumberland National Park is a partner of the Animating Dark Skies project, contributing to and benefitting from the investments made to developing facilities and running dark sky tourism events. It is also a strong advocate for better quality street lighting in the North Pennines and supporting local measures to reduce light pollution. Dark Sky events have also taken place in the Northumberland Coast AONB, one the best places in England to view the Aurora Borealis.”
The new CPRE maps were produced by Land Use Consultants from data gathered by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in America. The NOAA satellite captured visible and infrared imagery to determine the levels of light spilling up into British skies. CPRE is sending lesson plans to primary schools in order to promote the enjoyment of dark skies.
Emma Marrington, senior rural policy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: “Our view of the stars is obscured by artificial light. Many children in urban areas may not have seen the Milky Way, our own galaxy, due to the veil of light that spreads across their night skies. Councils can reduce light levels through better planning and with investment in the right street lighting that is used only where and when it is needed.
“Our Night Blight maps also show where people can expect to find a truly dark, starry sky. The benefits of dark skies, for health, education and tourism, are now being recognised, with areas such as the South Downs National Park receiving International Dark Skies Reserve status. Dark skies are a key characteristic of what makes the countryside so different from urban areas.”
The Dark Sky Steering Group which oversaw the application process to secure the Northumberland Dark Sky Park designation in 2013 monitors and steers development and new opportunities in the area. It is led by Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, Northumberland National Park Authority, the Forestry Commission, Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society, Northumberland County Council and Northumberland Tourism Ltd.
To find out more about star gazing events in Northumberland go to http://www.visitnorthumberland.com/darkskies.
To access the Northumberland National Park Authority’s advice leaflet on outside lighting go to: http://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/NNP-outside-lighting-guide.pdf.