Dark Skies Fringe Festival: Event to celebrate clear skies of North Yorkshire this weekend

Many of us rarely get to see a sky full of stars as light pollution shrouds the views above our towns and cities.

But it is different in the more sparsely populated areas of North Yorkshire where the beauty of the night skies is being celebrated in a festival, starting today (Oct 22).

The second North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks’ Dark Skies Fringe Festival, which runs until October 31, celebrates the delights of dark skies and the importance of protecting nature. The festival also educates children and boosts wellbeing. Festival organisers are hosting an array of events with stargazing likely to be the most popular.

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Mike Hawtin, North York Moors National Park Dark Skies Officer, said: “For that person who for the first time looks into a proper professional, big telescope and close-up sees the rings of Saturn, it’s a goosebumps moment.

Dark Skies campaigner Richard Darn surveys the nigh sky at Ralphs Cross, Westerdale on the North Yorkshire Moors

"Or the first time you get a close-up of the Moon, pictured, and you can actually see the Sea of Tranquillity where the first Moon landings were. You’re looking at something you would never think you would see and I don’t think anybody would fail to be impressed by that.”

Last year, the two national parks were jointly awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status, a global conservation programme founded in 2001 that recognises and promotes excellent stewardship of the night sky.

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As well as recognition of the National Parks’ exceptional starscapes, the designation also provides an opportunity to encourage tourism in the autumn and winter months and raise awareness of the importance of protecting the night-time environment.

On a practical level it feeds into the planning process, with the aim of further reducing light pollution, reducing unnecessary consumption of electricity and minimising carbon footprints and energy costs. The idea for a dark skies festival initially grew out of a desire to find ways to support the rural economy post-summer.

The fringe festival is something of a forerunner to the main festival, running since 2016, which is held in February.

As well as economic benefits, the aim is also to underline the value of protecting and enhancing the night skies.

Mr Hawtin said the festivals include sessions on nocturnal animals and the value of dark skies to wildlife.

“Nature is a crucial reason why we want to protect our dark skies and the impact that artificial light has on animals whether it’s insects, bats, moths. I’ve been reading research just today on the impact on hedgehogs and how they forage and feed and the impact of light on them. So we’re really starting to understand just how significant the impacts are on wildlife.”

Encouraging and enabling access to views of the night skies is important for culture and art as well as providing an educational benefit for children, Mr Hawtin added.