The picturesque Elan Valley Estate in Mid Wales has created history by becoming the world’s first privately owned, but publicly accessed International Dark Sky Park.
The silver-tier status has been granted by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) based in Arizona, USA and means that the 45,000 acre estate is now protected against light pollution for the benefit of those who live and work there, as well as for visitors and the abundance of wildlife found there.
The Elan Valley Estate joins the Brecon Beacons National Park which, due to its size, is classified as an International Dark Sky Reserve. Snowdonia National Park is also preparing its application to the IDA.
What makes the Elan Valley Estate’s achievement even more remarkable is that all the preparatory work was done in house by two local amateur astronomers, Les and Kris Fry, now volunteer astronomy rangers and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water estate rangers.
The process to become an International Dark Sky Park began in November 2012. More than 200 individual light readings were taken at 13 sites over a 22 month period to demonstrate that the Estate would fit the criteria for this status.
Analysis of the data revealed that the estate “possessed exceptional starry skies and natural nocturnal habitat where light pollution is mitigated and natural darkness is valuable as an important educational, cultural, scenic, and natural resource”. This is one of the primary conditions for granting International Dark Sky Park status and so ideal for stargazing.
News of Dark Sky status was announced jointly by the IDA in conjunction with Elan Valley Astronomy (EVA) and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water at 10am on Friday.
Les and Kris, of EVA, thanked all members and organisations who had contributed in attaining this accolade and said they looked forward to the inevitable boost to the local economy that the associated astro tourism should bring.
“It’s absolutely amazing how much we have achieved as amateur astronomers,” said Kris. “We want to show other people that you don’t need to be a big corporate concern to gain Dark Sky status. The common person can also protect their sky from light pollution.
“We now want to expand the Dark Sky area to cover the whole of the Cambrian Mountains.”
John Barentine, DSA project manager in Tucson, Arizona, said: “We’re thrilled by the outcome and what this means for Wales. With other sites in the application process, Wales will lead the entire world in terms of countries with the largest fraction of their land subject to dark skies protection.”
Ed Parsons, area lands manager for Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, said: “I’m very excited that our spectacular night sky has been recognised by the International Dark Sky Association. This global recognition is testament to the hard work of our rangers and voluntary astronomers, without whom this would not have been possible
“I would also like to thank the Elan Valley Trust for their support from the beginning of this process. We will continue to work in partnership with them and local residents to protect and enhance this feature of the estate and welcome visitors to experience a truly dark sky at night.”
IDA executive director, J. Scott Feierabend, said: “Today IDA takes a major step forward in dark skies conservation by welcoming the Elan Valley as the first-ever privately owned International Dark Sky Park. Moving into the realm of private land conservation significantly extends the reach of protections for the natural night time environment.”
Bob Mizon, director of the British Astronomical Association’s Commission for Dark Skies, said: “It’s really exciting to see the Elan Valley joining the ranks of those places worldwide who are protecting our heritage of starry skies above. We look forward to the time when everyone will have the optimum night sky over them.”
Focusing on the astro tourism potential, Richard Smith, of Cambrian Safaris, said: “At Cambrian Safaris, we work closely with the accommodation sector and the local community to promote the area’s natural attractions. We aim to encourage people to come again by giving them ideas of places to explore for themselves.
“We now run evening tours all year round and organise astronomy sessions with the Elan Valley Astronomy Group who worked so hard to gain the Dark Sky Status for the Elan Valley Estate. Dark Sky status will be a great help in putting the Cambrian Mountains on the map.”
Val Hawkins, chief executive of MWT, an independent organisation representing tourism and hospitality businesses in Mid Wales, said the announcement was “fantastic” news for the Elan Valley and Mid Wales as a whole.
“International Dark Sky Park status reinforces everything that is special about Mid Wales with our unspoilt, natural environment and spectacular night sky,” she added. “And we are only two hours for some of the largest cities in the UK.
“Hopefully more people will now come and visit Mid Wales to experience some of the natural wonders that they have on their doorstep.”
There are currently 25 Dark Sky Parks in the world including Galloway Forest Park in Scotland, Death Valley National Park in California, De Boschplaat in the Netherlands and Eifel International Dark Sky Park in Germany.
The Elan Valley International Dark Sky Park will now embark on plans to further improve light wastage within the estate, and to improve facilities for astronomers at several locations across the Estate.
To find out more about the astronomical events run by the volunteer astro-rangers at the Estate please visit www.elanvalley.org.uk or call 01597 810880. For more information on Elan Valley Astronomy email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.facebook.com/EVastronomy