Delight for Clanfield astronomers as national park wins coveted '˜dark skies' status

THE South Downs has some of the starriest nights in the world '“ and that's official.

Wednesday, 11th May 2016, 6:48 am
The Milky Way seen from the South Downs National Park

The national ppark has been named as the world’s newest ‘international dark sky reserve’ for the quality of its starry nights.

The stunning area, which borders the Portsmouth conurbation and includes Catherington and Petersfield, won the accolade from the International Dark-Sky Association.

The association said the park provides dark skies ‘within reach’ of nearly 17m people living in the south east.

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It is the second ‘dark sky reserve’ to be designated in England after Exmoor National Park – and one of only 11 worldwide.

The designation comes after national park ranger Dan Oakley, who lives in Portsmouth, and volunteers spent three years mapping the quality of night skies across the park.

Local authorities have also worked to replace 2,700 street lamps across the national park with LED lights which direct light downwards and reduce light pollution.

The move to create a dark sky reserve was backed by more than more than 1,300 people who signed a ‘dark skies pledge’.

Mr Oakley, a former engineer at Portsmouth Dockyard, said: ‘With the south of England under threat from losing its last few patches of properly dark skies this is a statement that the skies of the South Downs are worth protecting.

‘With two million people living within 5km of the National Park, the reserve will be one of the most accessible in the world and certainly one of the most cared for.’

Astronomers at the Clanfield Observatory welcomed the status.

Graham Bryant, chairman of Hampshire Astronomical Group, said: ‘We are absolutely delighted.

‘At the moment if you want to get a good view of the night sky you have to move away from cities and towns.

‘What this means is the darkness within the national park will be preserved.’

The South Downs National Park Authority will use its planning role to protect the skies above the park as well as the landscape on the ground.