RURAL dwellers in a remote part of Northumberland are being urged to turn down their lights to turn up the power behind a bid for special recognition.
The county’s quest for official Dark Sky Status will go before the International Dark Skies Association in Arizona, USA, early this year.
And the latest boost for a campaign which would bring major extra business and prestige has come in the shape of support from the world-famous Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at Manchester University.
If the bid this year is successful, 400 square miles of north Northumberland would become Europe’s largest dark sky reserve – and the third-largest in the world.
Kielder Water & Forest Park would become England’s first Dark Sky Park, and Northumberland National Park would be designated Europe’s largest Dark Sky Reserve.
An audit of light levels in the region has revealed nearly 80% of lighting meets the strict criteria of the IDA.
And while bid chiefs are “delighted”, they want even more help from local folk to strengthen the bid.
Duncan Wise, Dark Sky Reserve project leader, of Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “In many cases a simple adjustment of the angle of lighting may suffice in making a fixture less light polluting.
“This is very much something we are seeking to do in consultation and agreement with owners. We have had meetings with businesses, residents and parish councils and there is a lot of enthusiasm to gain protected status.
“We may also be able to help with the costs of replacement if necessary.”
Dark Sky Status for Northumberland would bring a huge visitor boost for a region which already has a £650m tourism industry.
Growing numbers of visitors are flocking to the new Kielder Forest Star Camp to view the night skies and snatch stunning images. Now Jodrell Bank’s backing follows the support of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in November and adds significant weight to the application.
Jodrell Bank centre director Prof Albert Zijlstra said: “In much of the UK the night sky is now too bright to be able to see the Milky Way.
“The few remaining dark sites should be protected as a valuable resource able to inspire the next generation.”
There are only 12 protected dark sky zones worldwide, with the largest at Big Bend National Park, Texas, and Mount Megantic in Quebec, Canada.
The dark sky project is a joint initiative between the Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust, Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society and Northumberland National Park.
Kielder Observatory director Gary Fildes said: “This kind of backing is vital in demonstrating to the IDA that we have a long-term commitment to protecting our skies and maintaining the tranquility of our rural environment.
“The night sky in Northumberland and especially around the observatory still maintains that true darkness that can ignite and inspire all who see it. It is our most natural of heritages.”
Light meter readings taken in Northumberland have revealed the darkest pocket is around the Otterburn Ranges. Other good dark sky ratings have been gleaned at Harbottle and Holystone, near Rothbury.
Readings peaked at 21.7 (the maximum pitch black is 22), with the bid site average 21.5. Most bright towns give a reading of just 17.