Exactly one year ago today, 19th February 2013, the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park was officially designated the fifth International Dark Sky Reserve in the world – making it the first in Wales!
The campaign was led by the Bannau Brycheiniog Park Society and the National Park Authority, which resulted in the National Park becoming the first International Dark Skies Reserve in Wales and only the fifth in the world. Since that time, Dark Sky training courses have been offered to local businesses to help them benefit from this aspect of the National Park, and of the more than one hundred businesses taking part in the training to become Ambassadors over 20 have gone on to specialise and gain Dark Sky Ambassador status. And even though the Reserve is only one year old economic benefits are already being seen. The residents of the Park have shown their enthusiasm for and commitment to the Dark Sky Reserve introducing community and business led events and festivals across the Park.
To help us celebrate our anniversary and to improve our knowledge about the darkness of our sky please take part in Astronomy week and Star Count 2014. This campaign helps monitor the extent of light pollution and similar in principle to a birdwatch, you simply look up at the sky and count the starts you can see in the constellation of Orion with the naked eye any clear night between 26th February to Saturday 8th March.
Top tips to find Orion – it’s best to do this after 7pm and look towards the south. As you probably know the three bright stars close together in a straight line is the Hunter’s Belt, the two bright stars to the north are his shoulders and the two to the south are his feet – don’t count the four corner stars – only those you can see within them.
Count of the number of stars you can see with the naked eye ( it is important you do not use telescopes or binoculars) and enter the results online at www.cpre.org.uk/starcount. Once the survey is complete, a Star Count Map will be produced for the UK which will help us, and others, get a better idea of light pollution across the country.
Ruth Coulthard, Funding Development Officer for Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority and one of the lead officer behind the original IDSR submission said: “As part of our designation is a commitment that we will work to reduce light pollution, so collecting this data will be a big help.
“For the last year we having been working very hard with our residents and tourism businesses and this has paid off in dividends. Almost everyone I have dealt with has seen an increase in visitors seeking dark sky experiences and some businesses have specially developed facilities for their guests to enjoy the night sky – with observatories and purchasing telescopes for customers to use. We have a record number of dark sky events being organised and sold out and three communities (Talybont and Crai, Hay on Wye and Llangors) have event organised their own mini festivals.
“Astronomers are working with children across the park, in guides, cubs, scouts, to learn more about the night sky and negative impacts of light pollution and we’ve had national and international interest from journalists.
“But the best news is that other landscapes in the UK have been inspired to develop status for their own area – Northumberland was awarded the status last month, Elan Valley Trust have submitted their application and we’ve had visits from Snowdonia and the Peak District plus enquiries from South Downs and New Forest. We are event hosting a debate at the Senedd in Cardiff to look at the benefits the designation has brought and what we can do to raise awareness of issues related to light pollution and reduce it across Wales. This has been a fantastic achievement for Wales and we hope to celebrate for many more years to come.”
Jim Wilson, Chairman of Bannau Brycheiniog Park Society and initiator of the IDSR project said: “The collaboration with businesses and the public during the project to gain IDSR status was key to our success. It is great to see this enthusiasm continuing and benefits from our dark skies being realised.
“Work is underway to establish an astronomical observatory at the Mountain Centre to give Park residents and visitors alike even better opportunities to enjoy our dark skies.”
Mrs Margaret Underwood, Member Champion for Biodiversity for Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority said: “Being able to see the stars is a wonderful experience, darkness has a quality which we are seldom able to appreciate in today’s world of electricity. It is also very important for our wildlife. For some species darkness brings a time to rest and sleep, for others a time to feed and hunt but all depend to a greater or lesser degree on a period of true darkness. So while the Dark Skies designation brings benefits for us, it also brings great benefits for the biodiversity. This designation is a real achievement of which we can be justly proud.”