Starry nights could improve tourism

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ATTEMPTS TO gain dark sky status in Northumberland could boost tourism in the Borders if successful, it was claimed this week.

Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust and Northumberland National Park Authority are consulting to create what would become the third largest area of protected starry sky in the world.

A spokesman for the trust said: “If successful there will be a tourism spin-off for both sides of the border, the Jedburgh and Kelso area as well as Northumberland.”

The aim is to get 400 square miles of the Kielder and Northumberland parks adjoining the Borders designated by the International Dark Skies Association.

Tourism operator John Wilson, of Whitelee Farm near the Carter Bar, said: “We’ve got three holiday cottages and such has been the growth in interest in stargazing that we now put binoculars and star charts in the rooms for guests.

“The National Park has taken light meter readings on the farm which confirms what we can see with our naked eye – that we have glorious dark skies which are a major draw to visitors. Getting dark sky status would be a great way of promoting tourism, as well as preserving something very special about our landscape.”

Project officials are in talks with residents, parish councils and businesses to explain the proposals and gauge feedback before any application is made.

Kielder trust director Elisabeth Rowark said: “It’s crucial to understand that Dark Sky status does not mean turning lights off. Rather, it is about working with people and Northumberland County Council to create better and less wasteful lighting and promoting the night sky as an asset for the region.”

The trust said Dark Sky Park status for Galloway Forest Park in south west Scotland had created economic spin-offs for companies there and that tourism chiefs believe the success could be repeated here.

And it said a new survey of 35 accommodation businesses in the south west showed more than three quarters reporting an impact on the number of bed nights as a result of the Dark Sky Park.

A VisitScotland spokesperson said: “The bid is good news for the Borders and will encourage people to extend their stay and discover the things to see and do and places to stay in the area. We wish them the best of luck.”