Northumberland International Dark Sky Park to host its first Dark Skies Festival

A new virtual festival is being organised this February to celebrate Northumberland as one of the best places to stargaze and take in the majesty of the Milky Way on a clear night.

Officially, Northumberland has ‘the most pristine dark skies in England’ and in 2013 the National Park and most of Kielder Water and Forest Park became England’s first International Dark Sky Park (Gold Tier), as awarded by the International Dark Sky Association.

The festival is being hosted on the Northumberland National Park website and is led by four regional observatories: Battlesteads, Kielder, Stonehaugh and Twice Brewed and will take place from 12th – 21st February. There will be a wide variety of things to see and do – from fireside chats with Northumberland’s astronomers, to night sky guides and livestreams to help people stargaze from the comfort of their homes and neighbourhood. Due to the current Covid-19 restrictions, the focus will be on online events, but the organisers hope to see visitors come to the many venues dotted around Northumberland when they are able to reopen and it is safe to do so.

Online events include the CPRE Star Count from the 8th-14th February, and Kielder Observatory’s Escape Velocity astrophotography art project. Funded by Northumberland County Council, the project will be launched during the week and is a masterclass on nightscape photography encouraging children to image the dark skies with mobile phones.

Festival organiser Roy Alexander, Director of Learning at Battlesteads Observatory said: “The festival will showcase the absolute best that Northumberland and the International Dark Sky Park has to offer.

“Our 10-day programme is a result of the first collaboration between the four observatories and the Northumberland National Park Authority and we have put together an exciting range of online events.

“With speakers from Northumberland and around the world, we will be covering topics which will interest everyone from the stargazing newbies to the seasoned astronomers.”

Duncan Wise, National Park Visitor Development and Tourism Officer said: “Our dark skies are very special, contributing to the sense of tranquillity and our health and wellbeing, which is particularly important during this difficult time.

“We hope people will be inspired to gaze upon the wonder of the Universe and not to take it for granted, as sadly, light pollution from over-lit urban areas and poorly installed flood lighting in the countryside is eroding this special quality.”

Catherine Johns, CEO of Kielder Observatory said:

"Northumberland and the North East have an enormous range of observatories and science centres, astronomy societies and stargazing locations - the festival aims to showcase and celebrate that, helping everyone to look at the stars, now more important than ever. We are delighted to be involved in the organisation of the festival and will be launching an astrophotography project for children for ongoing participation."

Since the opening of world-class Kielder Observatory in 2008, and the designation of International Dark Sky Park in 2013, Northumberland is now regarded as one of the most successful dark sky destinations in the world, and in 2017, the value of astro-tourism to the region was calculated to be worth £25 million to the local visitor economy, as a result of many local businesses responding to the public interest in stargazing and astronomy.

The Dark Skies Festival will take place from 12th-21st February, and all online events will be free of charge. For more details on the event programme and to book events, visit: https://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/northumberland-dark-skies-festival/.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:
Northumberland Dark Skies Festival 2021 is organised by a partnership: Battlesteads Observatory, Kielder Observatory, Stonehaugh Observatory, Twice Brewed Observatory and Northumberland National Park. We hope that 2021 will be the first of many annual Northumberland Dark Skies Festivals to come. The Northumberland Dark Sky Festival supports and is part of the Dark Skies Festival.

Local astronomer, Liam Reid said: “The Dark Skies Festival is a great opportunity for those of us fortunate to live and work in the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, to share our passion for astronomy with likeminded people. It’s also a great forum from which to remind others of the importance of protecting our dark skies, for future generations.”

Lead Astronomer at The Twice Brewed Inn Observatory, Wil Cheung said: “The Dark skies at Northumberland Dark Sky Park are just absolutely unbelievable, it’s so easy for us to take it for granted but to see things like the Milky Way arching above us, the andromeda galaxy with the naked eye, even the Aurora Borealis makes Northumberland the Number one stargazing destination in England.”

About the Festival Partners:

Northumberland National Park Authority
It hosts stargazing activities at The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre and at Walltown Country Park and will host a few family-friendly stargazing activities to do at home, with tips on dark-sky friendly outside lighting. www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk Contact: Duncan Wise – duncan.wise@nnpa.org.uk

The Battlesteads Observatory
Located in the picturesque village of Wark, will host several moon-watch and astronomy-for-beginners events www.battlesteads.com/observatory Contact: Roy Alexander - roy@royalexander.me

The Kielder Observatory
Located in the beautiful landscape of Kielder Water and Forest Park, will host a number of events throughout the week on a variety of topics from the aurora to dark matter to exoplanets. www.kielderobservatory.org/our-events Contact: Catherine Johns - catherine@kielderobservatory.org

Stonehaugh Observatory
Will be hoping to host a few “bubble” events throughout the week www.stonehaugh-enterprises.co.uk. Contact Liam Reid - ljreid800@btinternet.com

Twice Brewed Observatory
Located on Hadrian’s Wall, will host several family stargazing events throughout the week www.twicebrewedinn.co.uk/stargazing. Contact: Wil Cheung - Stargazing@twicebrewedinn.co.uk