A STAR performer rating has been awarded to one of Northumberland’s prime visitor landscapes. Kielder Water & Forest Park has been declared a Milky Way location because its dark skies afford such spectacular views of the heavens.
The accolade has come from Dark Sky Discovery, a UK-wide partnership of astronomy and environmental organisations which seeks to inspire people to enjoy the night sky by highlighting top places for safe and impressive viewing.
Kielder Observatory is named as a Milky Way location – the highest- ranking category where people can observe the shimmering ribbon of stars which make up one arm of our galaxy from horizon to horizon.
Gary Fildes, director of the Kielder Observatory, says: “Kielder is one of the very few Milky Way locations in the UK, and it’s a feather in our cap without a doubt.
“The observatory’s profile has gone through the roof and the Dark Sky Discovery campaign will just add to the facility’s popularity.
“Well over half of the British public can’t see the Milky Way from their home, which is astonishing, because of growing light pollution.
“Some have never seen this wonder of nature at all, especially youngsters.
“That’s what makes the dark sky oasis we have at Kielder so important.
“There are a lot of youngsters who believe that clouds at night are orange because where they live is saturated with light pollution. For them, it’s the norm
“When people visit the observatory they can’t believe what they see. It opens up new dimensions for them and often touches people in a profound way.”
Dark Sky Discovery, led by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, has been granted £176,000 by the Big Lottery Fund, awarded through Natural England’s Access to Nature programme, to fund the latest initiative. Cawfields Car Park near Hadrian’s Wall, run by the Northumberland National Park, is also rated as a top location. Kielder Observatory is running a record 300 events this year to cope with demand and has attracted around 25,000 visitors since opening in 2008.
Ideas for a Kielder Observatory surfaced 12 years ago and Gary, who lives in Corbridge, Northumberland, says: “It’s been my life’s work to get this built.”
The facility is run by the charity Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society which also runs an autumn Kielder Forest Star Camp.
A spring camp is organised by the Sunderland Astronomical Society and both are usually a sell-out.
With 80 tent pitches available, the events can accommodate around 300 visitors each.
This year’s spring event runs from March 21-25. “We get people from the length of the country and from overseas,” says Gary. The star camps have been named as one of the world’s top 10 astronomical gatherings by the influential Sky at Night Magazine.
Under a really dark sky people can see more than 1,000 stars.
Details on events at the Kielder Observatory are available at www.kielderobservatory.org