By Mike Wilmott F.R.A.S
On 7th July, it was officially announced that Bodmin Moor and the peripheral areas had been designated as an International Dark Skies Landscape. This was the culmination of three years’ arduous work collecting vast amounts of data which led to a comprehensive application, jointly submitted by Cornwall Council and Caradon Observatory to the International Dark Skies Association, in Tucson. Significantly, this was the first time that an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) had been successful.
The application itself ran to 148 pages, with technical data about air clarity and the wonderfully dark night sky. It also says that ‘feedback from residents, businesses, landowners, farmers, astronomers, educators, environmental bodies and other statutory and charitable organisations has helped shape the proposals. Enthusiasm is such that there have already been calls to widen the buffer zone’.
This last point is significant, because other areas of Cornwall will find it somewhat easier to gain corresponding status for themselves by being peripheral to an already established International Dark Skies Landscape. Penryn has already stated that they wish to use the designation of Bodmin Moor to assist them with their own application, and other areas of Cornwall will also want to follow suit.
One key fact that may not be immediately apparent is the benefits that International Dark Skies status can bring to a local economy like Cornwall’s, with a significant seasonal summer tourism period.
In conversation with someone involved in the successful bid for Galloway Forest in Scotland to become an International Dark Skies park, they remarked that they also had had a reliance on summer tourism to sustain them through other times of the year, but, by focusing on using and protecting their night skies, they had seen an increase in bed-nights during Autumn, Winter and Spring; for every 1000 bed-nights pre-IDA designation, there were 2,400 bed-nights post IDA designation. This was not only good for hotels, guest houses and b&b’s, but also for the businesses providing support services and the like, and the whole local economy benefitted.
Cornwall Council say in the application that the ‘dark night sky is a tremendous natural asset’ and that ‘residents and visitors … tell us that they cherish the clarity of the sky over the moor and agree that international status would offer great potential for the local area and Cornwall’. To ‘maximise the enhancement of an International Dark Sky Landscape … we believe a true partnership approach is essential. This is central to the management plan’. They add that the designation of Bodmin Moor would become ‘an inspiration for other places. We already know that communities elsewhere in Cornwall are becoming increasingly interested in protecting the night sky and eager to see what can be achieved.’
Cornwall has a perfect opportunity to play to its strengths here. It may be that the disposable income of London and the Home Counties may exceed that of Cornwall, but their extra income can’t buy the air clarity and beautiful dark skies that we have in Cornwall.
The only way Cornwall be effectively challenged by other areas that don’t have dark sky advantages is if Cornwall manages to negate those advantages, and these come into three broad categories:
Other areas of the world have done this, and so should Cornwall.
Full astronomical darkness is now returning to the southern UK. Here's a chart from FLO's Clear Outside showing annual darkness for Bodmin Moor.
In the blue portion of the chart, centered around Midsummer, the sky never becomes fully dark. At that time of year the Sun never drops very far below the horizon, so the upper layers of the atmosphere are still lit up in an extended twilight. This isn't easily noticeable from brightly-lit towns and cities but is quite obvious from a dark, rural location. Astronomical images taken outside of astro-dark have a blue tint and are washed out to some degree by the reflected sunlight.
The 15 second exposure above was taken on the 18th June in SE Herts, at about 11:30 PM. The yellow colour at the bottom right is caused by light pollution, probably from the town of Bishop Stortford.
Here's a set of images comparing light pollution between Crowdy Reservoir on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, and south-east Hertfordshire, about a mile north-east of the town of Ware.