Dark Sky Discovery all set for a winter of stargazing

A restaurant car park, a hotel and a caravan park may not seem the most likely places for a spot of stargazing but these are just some of the areas being named as Dark Sky Discovery Sites as a brand new season of stargazing gets underway. Just a week before the clocks go back and as the nights draw in, 18 new sites are being unveiled in total, stretching from the Highlands to the Isles of Scilly. All of them have been nominated by communities in urban and rural areas and approved by the Science and Technology Facilities Council-led Dark Sky Discovery programme as safe, accessible areas with reduced light pollution that are good for seeing the stars. Alongside the new sites, a brand new programme of stargazing events is being unveiled, offering people from all walks of life opportunities to see, among other things, bugs that have survived a journey in space, a former NASA astronaut and learn how to spot star constellations.

“ Even at this early stage of Dark Sky Discovery’s second season we have around 50 events lined up and we’re expecting many more throughout the winter”, said Dan Hillier, Project Lead for the Dark Sky Discovery programme who is based at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. “It is great to see this project continuing to grow - earlier this year we were announcing six new Dark Sky Discovery sites, now we are unveiling three times as many. In these early events alone we are expecting more than 4000 people. We’re expecting a really exciting winter of stargazing events and this is testament to the hard work of all those involved with either nominating local stargazing sites or arranging events for the public to take part in. It is especially pleasing to see the commercial sector now getting involved, with hoteliers and restaurant owners getting on board”.

The Dark Sky Discovery programme aims to involve as many different communities as possible and encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to take part in stargazing activities. During last winter’s peak in January, Dark Sky Discovery events attracted more than 15,000 people within a month. The programme offers the public the opportunity to meet astronomers and find out about the latest research in the field. In England it is supported through a Big Lottery Fund grant awarded through Natural England’s Access to Nature programme.

The 18 brand new sites being announced today include five on the Isles of Scilly and seven on the Isle of Man - both areas are seeing Dark Sky Discovery Sites for the very first time.

Rebecca Steggles from the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) team said: “Having Dark Sky Discovery Sites spanning the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty means that local residents and visitors alike have the opportunity to discover an area of the Islands’ environment that may have previously been overlooked. Dark Sky Discovery Sites will enable people from all backgrounds in Scilly to access areas where they can learn, discover and explore the night’s sky. The dark skies over Scilly add enormous value to the AONB and Conservation Area and as such should be conserved and enhanced for future communities to enjoy”.

Howard Parkin, Chairman of the Isle of Man Astronomical Society said: “Over recent years we have recognised the growth in astronomy and have realised that the Isle of Man offers great potential for visitors to our shores. We have nominated 7 sites throughout the Island that have fantastically clear skies, and could easily have nominated many more. Long term we believe that the Isle of Man has great potential for Dark skies Tourism and with our extensive tourism facilities we feel that the whole Isle of Man could easily become acknowledged as a great Dark Sky Discovery Site. The project ties in well with the Island’s reputation of being a major centre for space commerce”.

There are also new sites at:

- Castlehill Heritage Centre in the Scottish Highlands
- Crai Village in Wales
- Glyncorrwg Ponds in Wales
- Suffolk Coast National Nature Reserve
- Glan Morfa Lodge in Anglesey
- The Putechan Hotel in Kintyre.

A full list of the Dark Sky Discovery Sites together with criteria for, and how to nominate, a site can be found at: http://www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk/dark-sky-discovery-sites/map.html

Some of the events already planned for this winter include:

- A two day event at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh where people can meet the bacteria that have survived a journey into space on 27 and 28 October
- A star party at Haw Wood Farm Caravan Park, Hinton, Saxmundham, Suffolk on 20 October
- Family urban Stargazing at At-Bristol on 17 November

In addition, tomorrow (20 October) the Glenelg and Arnisdale Community near Skye will welcome former NASA shuttle pilot Bonnie Dunbar and Doug McCuistion, Head of the NASA Mars Exploration Programme to an event celebrating of the arrival of NASA’s Curiosity Rover in Glenelg, Mars.

A full list of events can be found at: http://www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk/dark-sky-discovery-sites/map.html


Notes to editors

Launched in October 2011, Dark Sky Discovery is based on the successful Dark Sky Scotland programme. Since 2007, Dark Sky Scotland has been enabling thousands of people to enjoy informed, first-hand experiences of astronomy in the company of friends, family and others from their local communities. 30 Dark Sky Discovery Sites have previously been unveiled in England, Wales and Scotland - illustrating the range of great local spots that people can use for stargazing and inspiring people of all ages and backgrounds to come together in their local area to enjoy the night sky in a radically new way. For a list of partners and more information on Dark Sky Discovery Sites across the UK, visit http://www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk/

More details about the event in Glenelg can be found here: http://www.glenelg.co.uk/news/stargazing-what-you-might-see-on-the-night/ Please note this is a ticket only event.

Images available:

"Starry skies over Caithness, near one of the new Dark Sky Discovery Sites, Castlehill Heritage Centre." Credit: Duncan S Smith



A selection of other images is available. Please contact the STFC Press Office for more details.

• Lucy Stone
STFC Press Officer
Tel: 01235 445627/07920 870125

• Dan Hillier
Visitor Centre Manager
Royal Observatory, Edinburgh
Tel: 07821 800356

• Giles Merritt
Natural England
Tel: 0300 060 1228
Mob: 07900 608479

• Big Lottery Fund Press Office
Tel: 020 7211 1888

Further Information

About Access to Nature

1. Access to Nature has awarded a grant of £176.8k to the Dark Sky Discovery initiative.

2. Access to Nature is run by Natural England and is part of the Big Lottery Fund’s Changing Spaces programme launched in November 2005 to help communities enjoy and improve their local environments.

3. Natural England manages this £28.75 million Lottery-funded programme on behalf of a consortium of twelve national environmental organisations comprising BTCV, British Waterways, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Greenspace, Groundwork UK, Land Restoration Trust, The National Trust, Natural England, RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust.

4. Through this programme, it is Natural England’s ambition to create opportunities for people from all
backgrounds to have greater access to our natural environment and bring a lasting change to their
awareness and understanding as well as improved links to the natural world, which many of us can
take for granted.

5. Access to Nature closed to applications in May 2010 but for further information about the programme
visit www.naturalengland.org.uk/accesstonature

6. The Big Lottery Fund is the largest of the National Lottery good cause distributors and has been
rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK since its
inception in June 2004. For further information about the Big Lottery Fund, its programmes and
awards visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk

The New Dark Sky Discovery Sites

For more information please see http://www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk/dark-sky-discovery-sites/map.html

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