Dark sky chiefs in Northumberland are aiming to submit an ambitious bid to have a large part of the region designated as an international preserve dark sky park for the quality of its starry skies by this Autumn.

Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, Northumberland National Park and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society are seeking the prestigious status for 400 square miles of stunning countryside to protect the area's rural character and promote star gazing and sustainable tourism in England's remotest corner.

Now bid organisers can reveal an exciting new development.

After detailed consultation with the Tucson-based International Dark Skies Association (IDA), which grants the award, it is likely that the whole proposed dark sky area will apply to become Europe's largest Dark Sky Park.

Previously, the National Park was seeking reserve status, similar to that already awarded to Exmoor and the Brecon Beacons by the IDA - whilst Kielder Water & Forest Park would become a Dark Sky Park. But thinking has changed.

Chair of the Dark Skies Working Group, Elisabeth Rowark, explained: "We have taken hundreds of light meter readings and worked hard behind the scenes to audit external lighting in the combined area. It is clear that we have what is probably England's largest expanse of remaining truly dark and starry skies. A significant part of the National Park has been discovered to be just as dark as the forest and that means we have raised our sights and will most likely go for one Dark Sky Park designation for the entire area. Creating such a large park in Europe is breaking new ground and we are working with the IDA to refine our proposal before seeking their ultimate adjudication, hopefully by the end of the year."

Currently Europe's largest Dark Sky Park is Galloway in South West Scotland. Northumberland 's proposed park area is larger and if the bid succeeds it would create one of the largest such parks in the world, joining the likes of Death Valley, California, and Big Bend National Park, Texas, in the USA.

The finishing touches are now being put to a lighting audit to provide vital data for the drafting of a Lighting Management Plan, which will outline the measures proposed to keep our skies dark sky friendly. That document will not say that lights must be switched off in the dark sky area, but rather that new buildings should have eco-friendly and less polluting external lighting fixtures where light shines downwards and not beyond property boundaries. So far the audit has revealed that Northumberland is near to meeting the compliance benchmark set out by the IDA. Elisabeth Rowark continued:

"We have parish councils represented on the working group and we are also engaged in extensive consultations with local businesses, who are massively behind the proposal. In addition we have gained the support of prestigious bodies like the Greenwich Royal Observatory and local tourism bodies. We have a really good story to tell the IDA about the huge success of the Kielder Observatory and about the outreach work already underway to introduce people to the wonder of the heavens. This is an exciting time for us all, especially with Kielder Water & Forest Park being voted England's number one tourism experience in the recent VisitEngland 2013 Awards for Excellence."

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Note to Editor

1. Kielder Observatory, run by the Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society, has become one of the region’s top visitor attractions since it opened in 2008. It offers an acclaimed programme of star watching activities and night watch events. To find out more visit www.kielderobservatory.org

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 kms 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
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Richard Darn
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0775 367 0038