Area awarded Dark Sky Park status

Stargazers could soon be flocking to one of England's most remote corners which is to get official recognition for the quality of its night sky.

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The Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is one of the largest in the world

Stargazers could soon be flocking to one of England's most remote corners which is to get official recognition for the quality of its night sky.

Some 1,500 square kilometres (580 square miles) of Northumberland countryside is to be given protected Dark Sky Park status, the largest in Europe.

The US-based International Dark Skies Association (IDA) has granted Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status to the combined areas of Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park, between Hadrian's Wall and the Scottish border.

The new zone - which will be called the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park - is the first of its kind in England and one of the largest in the world, joining the likes of Death Valley and Big Bend Dark Sky Parks in America. Gold tier designation is the highest accolade that the IDA can bestow.

It means the spread of light pollution will be halted, as people will be encouraged to fit more sophisticated outdoor lighting to homes.

The award could boost tourism as stargazers venture to the North East to get away from the glare of the city.

The bid for protected status has taken two years, and has been spearheaded by Northumberland National Park Authority, Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society.

TV impressionist Jon Culshaw, an amateur astronomer, said: "The site of Kielder observatory is a truly magnificent dark sky area.

"Having filmed an episode of The Sky at Night there, it was incredible witness light levels fall to such a depth that you would swear the stars were casting shadows.

"It's a sad thought that such genuinely dark sky sites are becoming increasingly rare.

"We must value them, preserve them and ensure they can be enjoyed by as many visitors as possible who may take in the majesty of a spectacularly non-light polluted night sky."

Elisabeth Rowark, chair of the Northumberland Dark Skies Working Group and director of the Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, said: "We have worked so hard together to reach this tremendous day for everyone committed to securing protection for England's largest area of starry skies.

"We have a wonderful story to tell in terms of our public astronomy outreach and the success of the Kielder Observatory.

"But this designation as Europe's largest Dark Sky Park will be a springboard allowing us to do even more.

"We do not want to turn off the lights, but rather encourage better lighting using the latest technology.

"This is the start of a new chapter for Northumberland where quite literally the sky is the limit."

Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal for England, said: "I'd like to offer warm support to this development.

"It is a further boost for Kielder Observatory and stargazing throughout Northumberland National Park.

"But, more than that, it should have the support of a far wider community than astronomers.

"The dark night sky is the most universal feature of our environment.

"All humans, everywhere in the world and throughout history, have looked up at the sky and wondered at it.

"This experience is now denied to most people, because of the background light in towns and cities. It is important to ensure that there will be somewhere in England where young people can fully enjoy a cosmic panorama."

Councillor John Riddle, Chairman of Northumberland National Park Authority, said: "Creation of the Northumberland Dark Sky Park is recognition that our National Parks and protected rural areas are defined by their skyscape as well as their landscape.

"Starry nights, tranquil villages, rolling hills and forests are all part of the Northumberland experience that visitors love.

"This move will reclaim the night and protect this rich legacy for future generations."