Star Quality! - Europe's biggest Dark Sky Park unveiled in Northumberland

The stars at night are big and bright - deep in the heart of Northumberland!

Today (Monday, 9 December, 2013) England's spectacular Border county has been named as home to the largest area of protected night sky in Europe.

The International Dark Skies Association (IDA), based in Tucson, USA, has granted Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status to the combined areas of Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park – covering nearly 1,500 square kilometres of breath-taking scenery between Hadrian's Wall and the Scottish border.

The new zone - which will be called the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park (NDSP) - 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 the USA. Gold tier designation is the highest accolade that the IDA can bestow.

Working with councils, residents, businesses and tourism agencies, the two year campaign to achieve the prestigious status has been spearheaded by Northumberland National Park Authority, Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society.

Bid chiefs say the move will counter the spread of light pollution and maintain the pristine starry skies overhead. It will also help develop sustainable astro tourism, boost nocturnal wildlife and create a model for high quality, safe and eco-friendly public lighting. Crucially, it will also protect the rural character of an area deemed the nation's darkest and most tranquil by the Campaign to Protect Rural England and provide opportunities for people to be inspired by the stars.

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, added:

"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."

Northumberland Dark Sky Park has been created from two adjoining areas - Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park (where the Forestry Commission manage England's largest forest and Northumbrian Water Europe's largest man-made reservoir). The joint bid is the first of its kind approved by the IDA. Over 300 light meter readings have been taken over a two year period by National Park volunteers, amateur astronomers and Forestry Commission rangers, confirming Northumberland retains England's largest extent of starry skies due to low levels of light pollution. An audit of external lighting was also undertaken to identify lights which need replacing or adjusting to comply with and exceed IDA guidelines. A new Lighting Management Plan will guide planning authorities in ensuring new developments take account of the pristine night sky. The park's darkest areas, which are mostly uninhabited, will remain light-free.

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. It is sad that so much of the UK has lost its view of the heavens. Wasteful light pollution snubs out the stars and over 80% of people have never seen the Milky Way. But here at least the Universe can be admired, shared and cherished by everyone. We have already created a Dark Sky Discovery Site at Cawfields on Hadrian’s Wall and many Northumberland villages and tourism businesses are gearing up to welcome stargazers.”

Northumberland County Council has supported the bid and together with Northumberland National Park Authority has endorsed the Lighting Management Plan. A £25m ‘Invest to Save’ project is set to get underway next year to replace up to 16,000 street lighting columns and replace all the existing sodium lanterns with eco-friendly and fully controlled LED units, with the capability to vary the lighting levels, while maintaining public safety. This will significantly reduce light pollution, slash energy and maintenance costs and cut carbon emissions.
A major catalyst for the Northumberland Dark Sky Park initiative has been the phenomenal success of the Kielder Observatory, perched 1200 feet above forest and moorland in Kielder Water & Forest Park. Since the £510,000 facility opened in 2008 it has welcome over 50,000 visitors, eager to experience celestial wonders above this ultra-dark location.

Gary Fildes, Founding Director of the Kielder Observatory, added:

“This announcement is terrific news for all of us who have campaigned for a decade or more to protect Northumberland's night skies. We have known for a long time that this is a special place, but we also know how fragile a truly dark sky is when so much has been lost to rampant light pollution. We have big plans to develop the Kielder Observatory further and cement its place as the UK's most successful facility of its kind. Dark Sky Park status will be a big help in this drive. Together with other stargazers. I'm relieved, excited and delighted to see that these magical skies have at last been recognised and protected.”

Councillor Grant Davey, Leader of Northumberland County Council, said:

“This is great news for our county and everyone in Northumberland. This shows officially that Northumberland has been recognised as having some of the darkest skies in the country and that they are valued by our residents and communities. Not only will we have England’s first dark sky park, it will be the largest in Europe and one of the biggest in the world meaning international recognition for this area. To get global recognition on such an important stage is excellent for people who live, work or visit Northumberland. I know that residents, businesses and everyone at the council will be very proud of this wonderful achievement.”

Steve Owens, dark skies consultant and chair of the International Dark Sky Association's development committee, commented:

"The IDA are delighted to recognise Northumberland Dark Sky Park as the latest addition to our family of International Dark Sky Places. The quality of Northumberland's night sky, and the huge efforts made by local communities to preserve them, make Northumberland Dark Sky Park a Gold-Tier site, and one of the best places to stargaze in Europe."

More Dark Sky Discovery Sites will be created across Northumberland Dark Sky Park, providing places like Cawfields, managed by the Northumberland National Park, on Hadrian's Wall, where people can pull in and admire the heavens aided by on-site interpretation. A total of 13 potential sites have been identified. An ambitious astro outreach project will also be announced shortly, involving support for training businesses, visitor collateral and development of event deliverers across the NDSP and wider area. Further business workshops are also planned to encourage enterprises to tap into the public appetite for stargazing. Hotels and guest houses in the county are already offering dark sky breaks.

Media resources

Northumberland Dark Sky Park videos and picture gallery (you are free to download for publication, or link). Please credit where stated. (high res gallery)

Visit Northumberland

Other web-links

Northumberland National Park


Kielder Water & Forest Park

Kielder Observatory

Forestry Commission

Twitter feeds

@VisitNland @NorthumberlndNP @VisitKielder @kielder_obs

Hashtags: #NlandDarkSkyPark #NlandStargazers #BestNland #NlandFUN
NorthumberlandNP, VisitNorthumberland, VisitKielder, KielderObservatory

Media calls:

Richard Darn
Northumberland Dark Sky Park
0775 367 0038


Notes to Editor
1. Additional quotes
Ian Gambles, Director, Forestry Commission England:
“It is fantastic news that our great forest at Kielder is now part of the Northumberland Dark Sky Park. Many woodland species such as birds, bats, moths and insects benefit greatly from reduced light pollution. The fact that this huge area of England has been recognised for its work to preserve the natural night skies will only benefit the Forestry Commission’s conservation work on the ground.”

George Macaulay Trevelyan ‘The Middle Marches’ 1926. The famous British historian lived in Northumberland:
"In Northumberland alone, both heaven and earth are seen, we walk all day on long ridges, high enough to give far views of moor and valley, and the sense of solitude below. It is the land of far horizons.”

Jon Culshaw, amateur astronomer, broadcaster and impersonator:
"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 rarer. 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"

Bob Mizon, MBE, FRAS. British Astronomical Association Campaign for Dark Skies:
“The UK leads the way in protecting its best starry night skies and this project will add a new 'star' to the constellation of dark-sky preservation areas. People are becoming more appreciative of the wonders of the universe. Experiencing them in places like the Northumberland Dark Sky Park will encourage them to protect their own local night sky from the ravages of wasted light.”

Steve Webb, Chair of Kielder Parish Council:
“Becoming a Dark Sky Park brings lots of benefits. It will encourage better and more environmentally friendly lighting, boost local businesses which rely on visitors for their lifeblood and also preserve something very special about our corner of England – its starry skies, wildlife and sheer tranquillity. This is a great day for Kielder.”

Simon Walker, Haydon Parish Council:
“We are delighted to hear of the success of the bid for Dark Sky Park status. Haydon Bridge is an excellent place for visitors to Northumberland to stay and access the Dark Sky Park. All of Hadrian’s Wall is easily reached from Haydon Bridge and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty lies just to the South. With the Dark Sky Park being right on our doorstep to the north, Haydon Bridge is ideally situated as a base from which to explore all of this most beautiful and now, officially, darkest County of Northumberland.”

Councillor Val Tyler Policy Board Member for Infrastructure and Culture at Northumberland County Council:
“Dark Sky status is really important to our ambitions for tourism in the county and will have a lasting impact on our ability to attract more visitors. It will ensure the long-term protection of our dark skies and secure the economic benefits of tourism in the county for future generations. Rural tourism businesses, such as the Kielder observatory, can benefit through the development of stargazing events and activities, encouraging more tourism. Northumberland, as a destination will feel the benefits of increased awareness and profile on a national and international scale.”

Mike Pratt, Chief Executive of Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said:
“Dark Skies designation for Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park is a great result all round, but especially for the area's wildlife. The concept of celebrating and managing the Northumberland upland environment to be as natural as possible and minimising light pollution is important. Wildlife such as owls, bats, badgers and other night creatures thrive better in an undisturbed environment left as naturally dark as possible. These natural conditions create a real sense of wildness and gives us chance to more deeply reconnect with nature at places like the Wildlife Trust's Whitelee nature reserve, which is in the new Northumberland Dark Sky Park. We are proud to be a part of this exciting venture.”

Sue Hugenholgz, who owns Blacksmith self-catering cottages west of Alnwick in the Northumberland National Park, which offers star gazing breaks, said:
“Northumberland has been a hidden gem for far too long - now we are firmly on the map. My interest was sparked when I wandered out from my cottage at night into what seemed like a tunnel of stars. It is simply breath-taking. Using a grant from the National Park I now have binoculars in the cottages for guests as well as books and we are also running astro-themed breaks with an experience amateur astronomer.”

Steve Dunwell, from Herding Hill Farm, near Cawfields, on Hadrian’s Wall, provides high quality accommodation for tents, caravans, with wigwams, cafe and bunkhouse on his recently built site. He explained:
“This is a great opportunity for us to attract more visitors and also share the staggering beauty of the Northumberland night sky with people from across the UK and further afield. We built the camp-site from scratch three years ago after moving to Northumberland from West Yorkshire and we made sure we fitted shielded down-lights so we could preserve our pristine skies from light pollution. We are less than a mile from Northumberland National Park Authority's Cawfields Dark Sky Discovery Site and we have already hosted astronomy events, both for day-guests and overnight stays. We plan to develop this side of things even more now we are in Europe's biggest dark sky park.”

Joyce Taylor, who together with her husband Colin runs Forest View Inn at Byrness, said:
“As soon as the Dark Sky initiative started well over two years ago we wanted to be part of it and we have organised star parties in the village and we are now offering astronomy breaks for visitors, which have proved really popular. Many guests are simply astonished at the starry skies. We feel very strongly that we should cherish them and reduce needless light pollution. It's part of what makes Northumberland such a special place.”

Terry Gregg, owner of Twenty Seven Bed & Breakfast in Kielder, said:
“We are getting a lot of visitors who have come to go to the Kielder Observatory, so we can see at first hand the huge attraction of a dark sky. We have also benefited from the lighting improvements made by the Forestry Commission at the Kielder depot and now guests can wander into our back garden, even set up their own telescopes on the rear decking and get a great view of the sky. Binoculars are provided for guest use, along with books and red torches and my wife has recently bought me a small telescope. We must protect the dark sky from light pollution getting worse.”

2. Local lighting improvement schemes – case studies
When the Dark Sky Park lighting audit was undertaken in the village of Greenhaugh in November 2012 Greenhaugh First School, near Bellingham, was identified as having unshielded exterior bulkhead lights which were not compliant with IDA standards. In response the school has established its annual own ‘Dark Sky Day’ where they integrate aspects of the dark sky into their curriculum, as well as participating in observational activities. Youngsters have since designed their own light shields, which are now being installed to make the whole building compliant and dark sky-friendly.


The village of Elsdon is the largest community in the Northumberland National Park, with a population of approximately 250 citizens. In the summer of 2013, as part of an undergrounding of cables initiative, the village had all of its existing low-pressure sodium street lighting units replaced with new LED units. The village hosts its own community star gazing events


The College Valley, near Wooler is the most remote and unspoilt valley in Northumberland National Park. It is owned and managed by the College Valley Estates, who also run a number of self-catering cottages. The lighting audit identified a number of errant bulkhead lighting units installed on some of the cottages. Following discussions with the Estate, a number of lighting units have been adjusted and a plan is now in place to replace others with new shielded low-wattage units and promote the Estate as a dark sky friendly destination within the National Park.


Northumbrian Water is reviewing its lighting stock across all their sites in the North East of England, Suffolk and Essex. They are running pilot schemes on potential dark sky discovery sites in Northumberland with a view to identifying suitable dark sky friendly lights which can then be tested for other locations. Northumbrian Water manages Kielder Water - Europe's largest man-made lake, which lies in the heart of the Northumberland Dark Sky Park.


Forestry Commission's Kielder Forest Depot, a major operations base to managed England's largest man-made forest, was also a major source of local light pollution, with nine security lights fitted and switched on through the night. These have been replaced by motion activated LED lights which are fully shielded. The result has been less intrusive lighting for nearby residents, better protection for the starry sky overhead, and a significant energy cost saving for the Forestry Commission, which is also committed to reducing its carbon footprint. As a result of the change, security has actually been improved, with lights activated after detecting movement in the local area rather than permanently illuminating potential targets for burglars.

3. What Dark Sky Park status means for residents?
Northumberland Dark Sky Park (NDSP) extends across 1570 square kilometres. The Lighting Management Plan will guide the two planning authorities (Northumberland County Council and the Northumberland National Park Authority) in considering planning applications and also provide a tool to continually improve public lighting so that it is more effective, less polluting and more energy efficient. The NDSP has been zoned with different planning guidance. For the west of the park, centred on the mainly uninhabited areas of Kielder Water & Forest Park, the guidance is that no new lighting should be permitted so this pristine area of darkness is preserved. Settlement areas such as Kielder, Stonehaugh, Byrness and villages in the Northumberland National Park like Esldon and Greenhaugh, have less strict guidance taking account of the need for safe and efficient public lighting. The aim here is to encourage lighting which shines where it is needed, rather than into the sky.

4. The IDA.
The IDA was founded in 1988 to highlight the hazards of light pollution and help protect the world's starry skies. Based in Tucson it has members world-wide. Its mission is to preserve and protect the night-time environment and our dark sky heritage through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. The Northumberland Dark sky Park has been created as part of the IDA's Dark Places Program, which protects night skies across the globe. The program comprises three types of areas: communities, parks, and reserves. The IDA's Dark Sky Parks and Reserves are home to some of the darkest and most pristine skies in the world where residents and authorities work together to protect their night-scape. To find out more visit

5. The Northumberland Dark Sky Working Group co-ordinated the successful bid for dark sky status from the IDA. It comprises Northumberland National Park Authority, Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society, with representation from Northumberland County Council, Visit Northumberland and local parish councils.

6. 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

7. 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.

8. 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. Visit

Star Quality! - Europe's biggest Dark Sky Park unveiled in Northumberland


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