Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Forest park given Dark Sky honour

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Amateur astronomers at Galloway Forest Park describe what they have seen

Galloway Forest Park has been officially unveiled as the first Dark Sky Park in the UK.

The award, announced by the International Dark Sky Association, confirmed Galloway as one of the best places for stargazing in the world.

Lighting experts were brought in to ensure the skies above the forest park were pitch black at night.

The organisers of Galloway's bid said they hoped the award would boost tourism in south west Scotland.

The final decision on the award was taken at the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) AGM in Phoenix, Arizona, over the weekend.

IDA DESIGNATED DARK SKY PARKS ACROSS THE WORLD
Galloway Forest Park skies
Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
Geauga Park, Ohio
Galloway Forest Park, Dumfries and Galloway
Source: International Dark Sky Association

Part of the selection process involved giving a rating via a sky quality meter, which measures the darkness of the sky overhead.

The higher the sky quality meter reading the better the conditions for viewing stars, with the darkest reading, such as would be recorded in a photographer's dark room, rated 24.

In major cities such as Glasgow or Edinburgh, a likely reading would be about 15 or 16 on the scale. Galloway Forest Park was rated 23 on the scale, giving it a gold tier Dark Sky Park award status - the highest achievable.

Martin Morgan-Taylor, UK board member for the International Dark Sky Association, said: "Galloway Forest Park is a fantastic asset in the now international network of Dark Sky Parks.

"A core aim in creating such a park is to identify and honour protected public lands with exceptional commitment to, and success in implementing, the ideals of dark sky restoration and preservation.

"Its location is ideally situated for access from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and northern England meaning that many people, including children, may have access to a quality night sky, both now and in generations to come.

"Such skies are rapidly disappearing and less than 10% of people in the UK can now see the Milky Way from where they live."

'Big plans'

Keith Muir, Forestry Commission Scotland's head of tourism and recreation in Galloway, said: "We have boldly gone where no-one in the UK has gone before.

"Tourism is the single largest economic development opportunity for south west Scotland.

"Currently, the Galloway Forest Park welcomes around 850,000 visitors each year and we have big plans to double this over time. This award, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, should be seen as a universal achievement."

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said the worldwide interest in the Dark Skies initiative would put the forest park "firmly in the spotlight".

Galloway Forest Park, which was established in 1947, is the largest of its kind in the UK.

It covers some 300 square miles (about 77,700 hectares), and is managed by Forestry Commission Scotland.

The limited numbers of buildings within the forest park's boundary allows light pollution to be kept to a minimum.

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SEE ALSO
In praise of real darkness
16 Nov 09 |  Magazine
Forest pursues 'dark sky' status
16 Oct 09 |  South of Scotland

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