The night skies around Shaftesbury have been awarded special recognition from a panel of astronomers based in Arizona. The Cranborne Chase Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty has gained Dark Sky Reserve status.
There are only fourteen similarly designated areas on Earth and our local AONB is the first of the 46 AONBs in the UK to be recognised.
An email sent from The States at 5.30pm on Thursday proved that work on this ten-year project, to rate the stargazing potential of places like Ansty, Tollard Royal and Melbury Abbas, had paid off. Now, any Shaftesbury resident who strolls out to a point as close to town as Littledown, will enter the AONB, one of the few places on the planet acknowledged for its dark skies.
Areas that have already achieved Dark Sky Reserve status, such as Exmoor, have noticed a steady increase in visitors outside the traditional tourism periods, such as during winter when it is dark earlier. Amanda Scott from the AONB says her colleagues are keen to get this good news for Shaftesbury tourism out into the press.
“Obviously we’re going to be promoting this as far and as wide as we can. We want people to know that Cranborne Chase is a Dark Sky Reserve and it’ll be a good place to come and watch the stars. We also want to publicise it because we have had so much support from local people, communities, parishes and businesses. Local astronomers have been supportive, too. We want to make sure everybody knows that it has been a success,” said Amanda.
And she says Shaftesbury area tourism businesses might want to think about using this designation within their own marketing. “Local businesses could think about how they promote themselves to people who are interested in coming to look at the dark skies.”
She says that she is delighted that Cranborne Chase is the first AONB in the country designated as a Dark Sky Reserve. “Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a Dark Sky Park, which is slightly different. As the first, we are hoping it will encourage other AONB’s to think about going for the status,” said Amanda.
Although there are just fourteen Dark Sky Reserves internationally, five are in the UK. “The others are the Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia, Exmoor and the South Downs, which is quite a close neighbour to us,” said Amanda.
The ‘Reserve’ title is given to areas where there are nearby population centres that can impact on the darkness of the night sky. A remote and undeveloped place, like the Sahara, offers perfectly clear night skies but would be inaccessible to the average stargazer. “I’ve had conversations with people who have visited the Sahara and they commented on how amazing it is. It’s on my bucket list,” laughed Amanda.
“A Dark Sky Reserve is an area with intrinsic natural darkness, like the Cranborne Chase,” she continued. “There are population centres around the edge which are potential sources of light pollution. Adjacent to us there’s the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole conurbation, Salisbury is in the northeast and, of course, Shaftesbury.”
Amanda explained that the Dark Sky Reserve has a central core zone which has been measured as darker than the outer buffer zone, nearer the settlements. “The central core is one of the largest in terms of proportion of the entire reserve, which just goes to show how dark our skies are.”
Amanda confirmed that entire AONB, which also includes Compton Abbas, East Knoyle, The Donheads and Semley is now a Dark Sky Reserve. But she says there’s still more work to be done to increase the darkness in some parts of the AONB. “All Dark Sky Reserves have to show that they’re either maintaining or improving their status. They have to show engagement with visitors and the local community including local authorities,” said Amanda.
“We now need to work very hard to improve the dark sky friendly lighting within our boundaries. The Local Planning Authorities have really engaged. Wiltshire is about to upgrade its street lighting over the next few years and that will have a big impact. It’s all hands to the deck now after putting down the champagne glass,” said Amanda, who confided that the team were actually celebrating with local cider!