One of the great joys of travelling to far flung islands like, say, Havelock Island in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands is that with minimal light pollution in such places, you can see the midnight sky studded with thousands of stars. In several parts of the world, people are taking active measures that they too get to see star studded skies on a regular basis: “On dark nights when the Moon is hidden and the clouds are at bay, Kevin Hughes sits at the bottom of his garden and gazes up at a velvety black sky. In contrast to his childhood growing up in London amidst the glare of orange sodium-vapour lights, he usually sees hundreds – and, as his eyes adjust, thousands – of stars studding the night sky.
Hughes lives in Cornwall, a peninsula in the southwestern tip of England that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. His home is in West Penwith, a region renowned for its rugged moors, granite tors and mystic stone circles. Dark skies are a portal to this heritage: “These are the same stars that cavemen in furs and woolly mammoths would look at in the Neolithic [era],” says Hughes.
Although the landscape around them is undergoing change, with new houses, hotels and developments springing up, residents of West Penwith can feel safe in the knowledge that their night skies will likely be protected for generations to come. This is because in December 2021, the region became a Dark Sky Park: an international marker of exceptionally low light pollution.”
If you want your part of the world to become a Dark Sky Park then you need to contact the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA): “Founded in Arizona in 1988, the IDA was set up by two astronomers to protect night environments from skyglow – excessive, artificial light directed upwards into the sky.
Globally, light pollution has increased by at least 49% over 25 years. Amidst mounting concern from ecologists and astronomers in the 1980s, the IDA was the first recognised authority in the dark sky movement, and remains the largest today.
Since granting Flagstaff, Arizona, the prestigious title of the very first International Dark Sky Place in 2001, the body has supported applications in 49 countries, from Japan to Hungary. It now counts more than 190 sites in its dark sky program, protecting over 110,000sq km (42,471sq miles) of dark places around the globe, including dark sky reserves, communities, islands and sanctuaries.
The status is seen as a seal of approval which can be used by communities as a basis for further conservation, tourism, education or marketing campaigns. And as the benefits of dark skies, including to human health, wildlife and the environment, become better documented, many rural areas are now seeking IDA recognition. The UK currently has the highest concentration of dark sky areas in the world, triggering a “domino effect” as communities race to conserve the darkness.”
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