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Starry, starry nights

Logo: North York Moors National Park

A star-filled sky is one of nature's most natural wonders but they’re become harder than ever to experience.

Luckily the UK’s National Parks remain some of the best places in the country to see stars because of the low light pollution levels and clear horizons; the North York Moors is no exception. From a town or city, you'll be lucky to spot more than a handful of stars but the further away you get from street lights, the better the view. In the darkest areas of the National Park you can see up to 2,000 stars at any one time. But like any of our special landscapes, we need to understand potential threats to our Dark Skies and consider ways of protecting them wherever possible.

The benefits of reducing light pollution are much wider than just stargazing. They include tourism, education, wildlife habitats, human health and in reduced carbon emissions. As well as having a negative impact on nightscapes there is also the nuisance element of light extending into neighbouring properties.

Excessive lighting causes sky glow, which significantly impacts on the ability to see stars at night (Courtesy: International Dark-Sky Association)
Excessive lighting causes sky glow, which significantly impacts on the ability to see stars at night (Courtesy: International Dark-Sky Association)


Excess lighting can be reduced whilst maintaining safety and security (Courtesy: International Dark-Sky Association)
Excess lighting can be reduced whilst maintaining safety and security (Courtesy: International Dark-Sky Association)

What we’re doing to protect our nightscapes

A significant amount of work has already been undertaken by the North York Moors National Park to understand where the darkest areas are and what challenges are faced to stop or even reverse the spread of artificial light at night. This includes taking night sky readings to identify the darkest areas, auditing lighting types and creating a lighting management plan to improve lighting across the National Park.

North Yorkshire County Council has also committed to ensuring that all new street lighting in the National Park will be installed with a warmer colour temperature known to be more dark skies friendly. This has been supported by a European funded project and also through section 106 contributions from the Woodsmith Mine to compensate and mitigate for the negative impacts of the development.

More recently, we have launched a Dark Skies Friendly Lighting scheme, with grants available to groups and communities to improve lighting in neighbourhoods or clusters where a discernible difference can be made. Initially this will focus in and around the areas we have identified as our core (darkest) zone. The scheme will initially last for two years and £100,000 has been allocated, with grants up to £2,500 (50% of costs) available for lighting design services, new lighting and installation with the following criteria:

  • All lighting installed or modified will be considered ‘dark skies friendly’ as advised by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), including being fully shielded and positioned to cause zero upward light spill
  • All lights will be controlled by motion sensors and will not permanently lit
  • In exceptional circumstances, where need can be demonstrated, timers will be accepted where additional shielding measures have been taken but not if lit all night
  • All lights will be 500 lumens or less (unless an exceptional need can be demonstrated and that extra measures have been taken to prevent light spill)
  • All lights will be of a colour temperature of 3000 kelvin or preferably below.

The key message is not that all lighting should be removed but that it should be used only where required and when needed, with a warmer colour temperature that scatters less readily.

Help protect our dark skies by using light responsibly (Courtesy: International Dark-Sky Association)
Help protect our dark skies by using light responsibly (Courtesy: International Dark-Sky Association)


Dark Skies Festivals - a celebration of dark skies around National Parks

As well as the work to conserve and enhance our night skies, we’re also keen for people to enjoy, discover and understand more about why our dark skies need protecting. And what better way to celebrate our star-studded skies than at an annual Dark Skies Festival?

Since 2016's inaugural event in the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales, with a handful of events across nine days, Dark Skies Festivals have quickly become an unmissable fixture in the calendar. This year the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales (with our neighbouring Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty), and South Downs National Parks are celebrating the jewels of the night sky over 17 days, with more than 150 events during February and March; Exmoor National Park also organises an October Festival.

Mountain Biking at Sutton Bank Credit Steve Bell/NYMNPA
Mountain Biking at Sutton Bank Credit Steve Bell/NYMNPA

There are events for families, first-time stargazers and those wishing to expand their knowledge with talks from leading UK astronomers or astrophotography workshops. For the more active, enjoy after-dark walks, runs and bike rides as well as night zips or how about a mindfulness session? We work with local astronomy clubs and other star loving organisations to help you discover the wonder of the night skies and spark your imagination. The Festival also encourages out of season visits and overnight stays, giving an early boost to the tourism sector.

We look forward to welcoming you to experience our dark skies soon.

Dark Skies Festival 2020

The Yorkshire Dark Skies Festival runs from 14 February to 1 March 2020 at venues across the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, as well as Howardian Hills and Nidderdale Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Logo: Dark Skies Festival

Most events require advanced booking. For more information and the full Festival programme, go to www.darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk 

Authors:

Mike Hawtin, Head of Polyhalite Projects

Catriona McLees, Head of Marketing & Communications

North York Moors National Park Authority