International accolade for moor's starlit skies
EXMOOR National Park has been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve – the first place in Europe to achieve this official status and only the second in the world.
The national park has been working towards the award for more than two years and has had support from many local organisations including tourism providers who are anticipating an increase in visitors keen to experience the thrill of dark skies full of stars.
In order to achieve the status local residents, organisations and authorities have had to cut light pollution.
Now, according to the International Dark Sky Association, Exmoor is one of the best places in Europe – and the best place in England – in which to stargaze.
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There are, confusingly, different accolades in the world of astronomy and what is now being called "astrotourism" – there are also Dark Sky Parks and Dark Sky Communities which at present are enjoyed in the wider UK by Galloway Forest in Scotland and the Channel Island of Sark, respectively.
But Exmoor has been given "reserve" status, partly thanks to support from the British Astronomical Association and the Royal Astronomical Society.
Steve Owens, chair of the IDA's Dark Sky Places Development Committee, who has advised Exmoor National Park throughout the development process, said he hoped the designation would attract stargazers from around the world.
"Astrotourism will become another staple attraction to Exmoor," he said.
"I'm over the moon that the IDA saw fit to recognise the amazing night-sky preservation work done within Exmoor National Park by designating them Europe's first International Dark Sky Reserve."
Dr Nigel Stone, chief executive of the park authority said: "We are delighted that the importance of dark skies, one of Exmoor National Park's special qualities, has received this international recognition.
"We look forward to welcoming many more visitors in the future to enjoy the starlit skies at night as well as the spectacular scenery Exmoor has to offer during the day."
As part of a nationwide Dark Sky programme this winter there will be a programme of activities for community groups in and around the national park staged in the coming months.