Tourism boost expected from dark sky neighbour

Dark skies over Kielder
Dark skies over Kielder

IT’S OFFICIAL – Newcastleton and the Scottish border now neighbour the largest dark sky park in Europe as of Monday.

For Northumberland National Park and Kielder Forest, covering nearly 1,500 square kilometres from the border to Hadrian’s Wall, has been granted Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark Skies Association (IDA).

The new zone – 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.

The two-year campaign to gain the status was led by the national park, Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society, working with councils, residents, businesses and tourism agencies.

And there is expectation that the boost to business and tourism will spill over to the Borders and talk of the park extending through the region to join Galloway’s dark sky.

Bid chiefs say the dark sky park status will counter the spread of light pollution and maintain the pristine starry skies overhead. And they expect it will also help develop sustainable astro tourism, boost nocturnal wildlife and create a model for eco-friendly public lighting. The park will also protect the rural character of an area deemed the nation’s darkest and most tranquil by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Northumberland National Park Authority chairman John Riddle 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.

“This move will reclaim the night and protect this rich legacy for future generations. We have already created a Dark Sky Discovery Site at Cawfields on Hadrian’s Wall and many villages and tourism businesses are gearing up to welcome stargazers.”

The success of Kielder Observatory, which has seen over 50,000 visitors since opening in 2008, helped prompt the bid.