Dark Skies

Nidderdale Looks to the Stars

Photos by Martin Whipp

We’re working with Nidderdale AONB on their campaign to secure International Dark Sky Reserve status.

Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is asking the public to help save its dark skies.

Together with the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the AONB is campaigning to make the Yorkshire Dales an International Dark Sky Reserve.

The status is rewarded to lands that possess an exceptional quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and, or, public enjoyment.

Coldstones Cut 1_Martin WhippSarah Kettlewell, AONB Manager, said: “The dark sky designation is important for a number of reasons. Our dark skies are part of what makes the landscape so special with the opportunity to see thousands of stars, and even at times, the Northern Lights. But this wondrous sight is under threat with increasing light pollution. It also threatens nocturnal wildlife, wastes energy and can even affect our own wellbeing.”

As part of the campaign, the AONB is backing Lime Tree Observatory’s mission to build a new planetarium for the region. Lime Tree Farm, a not-for-profit enterprise ran by volunteers near Ripon, is home to the observatory and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £25k to build the planetarium.

Astronomer, filmmaker and volunteer at Lime Tree Observatory, Martin Whipp, said achieving International Dark Sky status would be an important move to help meet the huge interest in astronomy.

Martin said: “There’s enormous demand for our observatory but we’re limited in what we can offer the public – a planetarium would mean we can open in the light summer months.”

The farm also plans to offer a rural craft workshop and centre next to the planetarium showcasing heritage crafts including spinning wheels, rope making, and a blacksmith’s forge.

Martin said: “We’ve already started the groundwork in the last year converting a barn, clearing out agricultural materials and getting a concrete floor down. Local companies have donated materials such as concrete and windows, but we need to raise the finance to complete our vision.”

Acquiring the International Dark Sky Reserve status would mean the AONB will work with householders and businesses to give them advice and help on how they can modify their lighting.  The AONB will produce design guidelines which they will encourage people to implement.

Coldstones Cut 2_Martin WhippMartin said: “It’s about educating people not to pollute the night sky. The night sky overall has become brighter over the years. We have evolved as humans to sleep in the dark. If you’re in the middle of a city and there’s bright lights, you’re in perpetual twilight, so that affects your circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. And a lot of wildlife is affected. Bird migration patterns are affected by the night sky, a lot navigate by the night sky, it’s not just astronomy – our want is almost a selfish one compared to the needs of wildlife.”

Nidderdale AONB already features four official Dark Sky Discovery Sites – areas designated as such for their accessibility as excellent places to stargaze. The sites are Thruscross reservoir, Scar House reservoir, Fewston and Toft Gate.

A series of events and talks are hosted at Lime Tree Observatory as part of the Dark Skies Festival ran by Nidderdale AONB and the Yorkshire Dales National Park, from 14 February to 1 March. There’s also a chance to canoe under the stars at How Stean Gorge in Pateley Bridge.

Martin added: “Everyone looks up at the sky with different ideas. Maybe because I’ve been studying it for so long, I see big stellar furnaces at different distances, but a lot look up for the sheer beauty, for personal inspiration, some have an environmental mission. We have night skies that need to be protected.”

Sign the pledge for International Dark Sky Reserve status, visit https://nidderdaleaonb.org.uk/special-qualities/dark-skies/help-save-our-dark-sky/