Forest chief backs dark skies bid as tourism body reports surging visitor interest

The Chair of Forestry Commission, Pam Warhurst, has praised Kielder’s soaring ambitions after visiting Kielder Observatory to support a bid to create Europe’s largest area of protected night sky in Northumberland.

The Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, Northumberland National Park Authority and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society (KOAS) are preparing a bid to the Tucson-based International Dark Sky Association which if successful would help promote and preserve the biggest area of dark skies left anywhere in England and help minimise wasteful light pollution.**

Built high above Kielder village the £450,000 observatory has proved a massive hit with the public since opening in 2008, attracting nearly 35,000 visitors. It will soon be re-equipped with even more powerful telescopes.

Pam Warhurst said:

“The observatory is an inspiring place and a tremendous asset to the whole North East and Borders. 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. The bid to designate a dark sky area linking Kielder Water & Forest Park with the Northumberland National Park, while also engaging communities and visitors in explaining the wonders of the night sky, is truly exciting. 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.”

Partners in the Dark Sky bid have consulted councils, businesses and the public in the proposed dark sky areas.

If successful Kielder Water & Forest Park would become England’s first Dark Sky Park and Northumberland National Park would be Europe’s most extensive Dark Sky Reserve. Reaction has been very positive, but consultations continue to refine the plans and boundaries.

A funding package is now being finalised to undertake the required lighting audits, which will help identify where more dark sky friendly lighting could be installed.

Gary Files, first director of the Kielder Observatory, and a founding member of the Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society, added:

“It was a thrill to have Pam Warhurst at the observatory and she was impressed by what’s been achieved in this fabulous corner of England. The facility – underpinned by the hard work of KOAS volunteers – has been the catalyst for much that has happened in terms of the dark sky bid. If we are successful in gaining added protection for the area it will create a long-lasting legacy enabling future generations to enjoy the wonderful starry sky that inspired me and my fellow stargazers.”

Meanwhile, Northumberland Tourism report that news of the bid has already sparked an increase in enquiries from people wishing to visit the county. Chief Executive, Giles Ingram, explained:

“Since the bid was announced we have had a number of enquiries 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.”