Two RSPB reserves are the first in England to benefit from a special international award recognising the high quality of their starry night skies.
On clear nights, visitors to RSPB reserves in West Sussex can enjoy the sparkling sights of distant stars and galaxies far beyond our planet, due to the darkness of their skies.
RSPB Pulborough Brooks and Amberley Wildbrooks are within easy reach of millions of people in London and southeast England, and fall within the South Downs National Park (SDNP), which has recently been awarded the International Dark-sky Association International Dark Sky Reserve status following a successful bid. It is the second in England and only the 11th in the world to be awarded this status.
Dan Oakley, South Downs National Park Senior Ranger, known as 'Dark-skies' Dan, and his group of dedicated volunteers spent three years mapping out the quality of night skies across the National Park. Skies over the Pulborough Brooks and Amberley Wildbrooks reserves have been measured and placed within bronze level status, meaning that on clear nights the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy can be seen with the naked eye.
The special status will protect the new Dark Skies Reserve from light pollution, meaning anyone from astronomers to amateur star gazers can enjoy far off stars and galaxies without the glow of street lights masking the view. It also offers people, plants and animals a break from an otherwise degraded nocturnal environment.
J. Scott Feierabend, Executive Director of the IDA, said: "We are pleased to announce the designation of South Downs National Park as an IDA Dark Sky Reserve. It is remarkable that a true dark-sky experience remains within reach of nearly 17 million people in Greater London and southeast England, and a testament to the hard work of South Downs staff and area residents in keeping it that way."
Visitors to RSPB Pulborough Brooks can get closer to nocturnal nature thanks to a series of after dark events throughout June and July. Night time safaris offer the chance to see bats, owls, glow worms and the elusive nightjar, and the RSPB's annual Big Wild Sleepout event, taking place 29th to 31st July, allows guests to book an overnight stay on the reserve.
Anna Allum, Visitor Experience Manager at RSPB Pulborough Brooks said: "The night sky is one of the most beautiful of natural wonders and with Big Wild Sleepout just around the corner, this is the perfect opportunity for children, families and nature lovers to sleep out under the stars in their own gardens, nearby nature reserve or outdoor spaces. It's the perfect time to practise your stargazing, explore the moon and discover nearby planets such as Jupiter, Mars and Venus."
To find out more about this year's Big Wild Sleepout event and how to register, visit www.rspb.org.uk/sleepout
1. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations. www.rspb.org.uk
2. Big Wild Sleep Out - Every year, the RSPB encourages the public to take part in The Big Wild Sleepout and discover nocturnal wildlife by spending one night outdoors in their own gardens or other safe spaces, including RSPB reserves. This year, it takes place 29-31 July, and registration is open from mid-June 2016. www.rspb.org.uk/sleepout
3. South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) is responsible for keeping the South Downs a special place. The SDNPA is also the planning authority for the National Park. The Authority is a public body, funded by government, and run by a Board of 27 Members.
4. South Downs National Park IDA Dark Sky Reserve
The newest Dark Sky Reserve is named in honor of the numerous contributions to British astronomy made by area resident and native son, Sir Patrick Moore, CBE, FRS, FRAS (1923-2012).
• more than 25,000 individual measurements have been taken and used to map sky quality;
• 66 per cent of the South Downs National Park has Bronze* Level skies
• the core boundary of the reserve is 418km2 with 1,104km2 in the peripheral boundary;
• there are approximately 2,700 streetlights in the whole of the National Park
5. International Dark Skies reserve application - https://www.southdowns.gov.uk/south-downs-national-park-wins-international-dark-sky-reserve-status/
6. International Dark-Sky Association - IDA is the recognised authority on light pollution. Founded in 1988, IDA is the first organization to call attention to the hazards of light pollution, and in 24 years of operation our accomplishments have been tremendous. http://www.ida.darksky.org/