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Dark Skies

Dark skies are found in rural areas that are free of urban light pollution. From a city centre location we might see fewer than 100 stars with our naked eyes. Under a dark sky we can see over 1,000 stars. We can even see our own galaxy, The Milky Way, stretching across the sky.

Galloway Forest Park has been named the UK's first International Dark Sky Park, and only the fourth on the world! Read more about Galloway Forest Park here

How to Become a Dark Sky Park

The International Dark-sky Association produce the following guidelines for parks interested in becoming an International Dark Sky Park or Reserve:
The eligibility criteria for Dark Sky Park status are:
  • All protected public lands, whether managed by national, state, provincial, or local agencies, are eligible. These may include parks, refuges, forests, wilderness areas, monuments, protected rivers, or other categories of protected lands.
  • Park must provide the opportunity for public nighttime access. A portion of designated land may meet this requirement, or access must be available for a portion the night;
  • Park must have an outstanding dark sky resource relative to the population it serves and have locally, regionally, or nationally significant dark sky resources;
  • Park night sky must be of minimum quality or better - at a minimum the Milky Way should be visible and sky conditions should approximately correspond to limiting magnitude 5.0 or Bortle Class 6.
  • If a park unit is over 50,000 ha (123,550 acres/193 square miles), a portion of the park may be designated as a Dark Sky Park. This portion must incorporate relevant park developed areas that serve the designated DSP area.
If a park meets these criteria, then it can work towards Dark Sky Park Status, with these minimum requirements:

A: A quality comprehensive Lighting Guideline or Lightscape Management Plan with the following minimum standards:
  • Fully shielded lights standard throughout the park. When lights are for special purposes or historic preservation compliance, lights under 1000 lumens initial lamp output may be unshielded (non-fully shielded). When such unshielded lights are used, impacts to the lightscape must be addressed, AND;
  • Methods for addressing whether an area should or shouldn’t be lit, when an area should or shouldn’t be lit, use of guidance lighting, lit signs, tower lighting, and appropriate lighting amount, AND;
  • Methods for addressing what type of lamp (incandescent, fluorescent, high-pressure sodium, etc.) should be used for particular tasks and in particular areas. utilizing appropriate energy efficiency technology and methods for minimizing impact to wildlife, stargazing activities, and nocturnal scenery, AND;
  • Lighting guidelines should conform to or surpass agency or departmental policy on lighting and dark sky protection as well as other applicable guidance and laws (e.g. environmental leadership programs, agency orders, wilderness act, energy management guidelines).
B: Park commitment to dark skies and lightscape management, as shown by:
  • Park recognizes dark skies as an important natural, cultural, or scenic resource value as evidenced by inclusion in approved management documents (e.g. General Management Plan, Resource Management Plan, Facility Development Plan), AND
  • Two-thirds (67%) of existing outdoor lighting fixtures conform to the lighting guidelines (or an alternative fraction approved by IDA Board). All lights upon park public lands within the DSP are to be included in this assessment, AND
  • All lighting (100%) on park land (whether operated by park or other entity) conforming, or committed to becoming conforming, with written park lighting guidelines, AND
  • The importance of dark skies/natural darkness and the benefits of good lighting should be part of park interpretation/outreach programs. If park typically provides interpretive programs, then dark skies should be one of the central themes communicated through on-site interpretation. If interpretive programs are not typically offered, then publications, flyers, press releases, media, or other outreach are appropriate substitutes, AND
  • Park has set a leadership example in the restoration of dark skies by implementing one of the following:
    • Producing at least 1 “night sky friendly” lighting project that is publicly visible and interpreted, OR
    • Involving at least 2 external partners in dark sky restoration efforts (e.g. chamber of commerce, power utility, university research, tribal nations, environmental groups, conservation groups, natural history association), OR
    • Cooperation with at least 2 nearby municipalities that results in adoption of lighting codes that improve sky conditions in the park, OR
    • Inventorying and monitoring night sky quality and using results to educate the public, OR
    • A combination of a-d above or an alternative restoration project may be suggested.

C: IDA may request stricter or alternative requirements in some circumstances.

D: Once established, park must erect and maintain a sign indicating Dark Sky Park designation along roadway entrance, along a footpath entrance if no roadway exists, or a visitor contact center. Sign should include IDA DSP text and logo. With IDA Board of Directors approval, an alternative wording may be used, such as Dark Sky Wilderness, Dark Sky Refuge, or similar. The park may include the awarded tier if desired.

E: Designation is permanent, but is subject to regular review by IDA and possible revocation if minimum requirements are not maintained

If you want to know more, please contact me

Dark Sky Discovery

The highly successful Dark Sky Scotland project will continue into 2009, and it will be used as a model to develop a network of Dark Sky regions throughout the UK, under the umbrella of Dark Sky Discovery. These regions are:
  • North-east England
  • North-west England
  • Yorkshire and the Humber
  • East Midlands
  • West Midlands
  • East of England
  • South-east England
  • South-west England
  • Greater London
  • Northern Ireland
  • Wales
In each of these regions, networks of astronomers will work with community groups throughout 2009 to establish a variety of Dark Sky Discovery Sites, bringing local communities closer to the skies above them.

Some good websites on dark skies are:

The Campaign for Dark Skies
British Astronomical Association
Campaign for the Protection of Rural England
Globe at Night Project

Phillip’s publishes a Dark Sky Map of Britain and Ireland.