The nights are not only getting shorter in February but also harder to see – especially in urban areas where light pollution and the phenomenon of Urban Sky Glow makes the universe seem less dark than it really is.
In Yorkshire’s two National Parks, however, the conditions are perfect for gazing at as many as 2,000 twinkling stars. It’s an awesome sight, especially compared to the 20 or so visible on a clear night above Sheffield or Leeds.
The third annual Dark Skies festival, a programme which begins this weekend and runs through the half-term holiday, takes advantage of the stargazers’ paradise which the unspoilt Dales and Moors offer, and organisers say they are having to create more events to keep pace with demand.
According to “night blight” maps, published in 2016 by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Yorkshire Dales is the third darkest National Park in England. At the other end of the scale, the Tata Steel plant at Rotherham was found to be the brightest spot in the country.
The Dales and the North York Moors are now classed as Dark Sky Discovery Zones – a level below the official Dark Skies Park status awarded to Kielder Forest in Northumberland and to Snowdonia National Park.
But there is no mistaking the difference in visibility between the park skies and those of the inhabited areas that surround them.
Tracey Lambert, at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “The park is one of the darkest places in England – that’s part of what makes it such a special place.
“This festival is all about connecting people with our starry skies and helping local businesses tap into ‘astro-tourism’. I hope as many people as possible are able to join in.”
The events in the Dales and Moors are being run by local businesses and the park authorities, and are partly funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
Mike Hawtin, outdoor activities tourism officer for the North York Moors National Park Authority, said: “The festival is now an annual fixture which taps into the nation’s growing fascination with space.
“Importantly it also helps support local businesses and attractions by opening people’s eyes to the enjoyment of visiting areas that might not have been on their radar out-of-season.”
Activities are taking place across rural North Yorkshire, including ghost walks on the coast and night vision walks with forest rangers.
There will be a night run in the Dalby Forest, mountain bike rides and opportunities to take part in nocturnal nature walks and photography workshops.