Residents in Yorkshire village seeing stars as it is set to be first in country to be dark skies friendly

An entire village in the North York Moors is helping to lead the way in efforts to curb light pollution with a first of its kind project to ensure all exterior lighting is dark skies-friendly.

Mexborough Estates is part-way through a project, working closely with the North York Moors National Park, to switch to dark skies-friendly exterior lighting for every property and street light in Hawnby near Helmsley. The National Park believes it will become the first village in England to have converted not just streetlights and individual properties but also all public spaces, including the village hall and pub.

More than 100 lights on 30 properties are being converted to ensure they provide all the functionality needed, whether it’s for security or visibility reasons, but without throwing glaring rays of light into the night sky, which can make the stars less visible.

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Alongside the Hawnby project, the Yorkshire Dales National Park is also making significant inroads into safeguarding its pristine night sky. In the latest development, four prominently-located Dales businesses have received grants from the National Park Authority to cover the cost of introducing dark skies-friendly lighting.

The Station Inn near Ribblehead has swapped its lighting to be more dark skies friendly.The Station Inn near Ribblehead has swapped its lighting to be more dark skies friendly.
The Station Inn near Ribblehead has swapped its lighting to be more dark skies friendly.

The Station Inn in Upper Ribblesdale, near to the Ribblehead viaduct, has installed 19 directional and well-placed exterior LED lights, significantly reducing glare and helping to make the surroundings perfect for astrotourism.

The other three businesses to install dark skies-friendly lighting are The Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes, including the Visitor Centre; the Stone House Hotel in Upper Wensleydale and the Yorebridge Sport and Leisure on the edge of the village of Askrigg.

Both National Parks achieved International Dark Sky Reserve status in December 2020. Since then both have embarked on a comprehensive programme of monitoring artificial light levels, providing lighting guidance on their websites* as well as working with councils, businesses and residents to advise and provide grant-funding for those looking to change their exterior lights.

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Mike Hawtin, the Dark Skies Officer for the North York Moors National Park explains: “A recent study concluded that people worldwide now see less stars with the naked eye due to skyglow caused by artificial lighting. We’re aiming to show how relatively easy it can be for communities to take a similar approach to the one at Hawnby and help us protect the pristine qualities of our dark skies.

“There are a few other places in Wales and Scotland which have converted street lights to become dark sky friendly towns or villages, but we think Hawnby will be the first village to go even further by converting both street and external building lighting when the project completes later this year.

“We’re definitely not anti-light as it is needed for many different reasons, whether simply for unlocking your front door or operating machinery at night. The steps needed to prevent light nuisance can be as simple as altering the angle of a floodlight to ensure no rays are wasted by casting a harsh glare down an otherwise dark valley.”

In the case of Hawnby, manufacturers, such as Jim Lawrence and Ark Lighting, have also been involved in rolling out LED lights that are designed to prevent upward light and emit a softer, warmer colour.

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The newer, more appropriately angled low power LED warm light technology can reduce energy consumption and research has also shown just how much wildlife needs true darkness, whether it’s night pollinating moths or birds roosting.

Mexborough Estates owner Jamie Savile adds: “Hawnby is a small, traditional moorland village blessed with big and far-reaching open skies over the surrounding hills and moorland. Through sensitive changes, we are aiming to make Hawnby the UK’s very first entirely Dark Skies Village. With hospitality and accommodation all close we hope the village will be able to offer a new, cosy style of nocturnal astro-tourism in a spectacular setting, both day and night.”

The Station pub is now running regular star gazing evenings and each is a sell-out irrespective of whether they’re midweek or weekend events, providing a boost in trade during the off-season.

The next North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales Dark Skies Fringe Festival takes place October 27 to November 5.