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Dark Night Skies

In May 2016 the South Downs National Park became the world’s newest International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR). We think our star-studded skies overhead are as valuable as our beautiful rolling landscapes and, with properly dark skies in the South East of England under threat, this is a statement that the skies of the South Downs are worth protecting.

Use the map below to find your nearest dark skies.

Where to find dark skies map

How to embrace the darkness

Rottingdean under Milky Way by Sumitra Sribhashyam
Rottingdean under Milky Way- Sumitra Sribhashyam

Here are some top tips to help you make the most of stargazing in the South Downs:

  • Check the phase of the moon to plan your trip – stargazing is best before a full moon
  • Take a blanket or mat to lie on
  • Wrap up warm
  • Take some snacks and a hot drink
  • Take a compass or use the one on your smart phone
  • Download a star gazing app to help you identify constellations and stars
  • Allow time for your eyes to adjust – this takes around 20 minutes so turn off any lights, torches and put your mobile phone away

What does International Dark Sky Reserve status mean?

  • The South Downs National Park is the second IDSR in England and the 12th in the world. With two million people living within five km of the National Park our new reserve will be one of the most accessible in the world.
  • There are approximately 2,700 streetlights in the National Park. Local lighting authorities have been replacing these over time to comply with Dark Sky standards.
  • More than 25,000 individual measurements had to be taken to map the night skies quality across the South Downs. 66 per cent of the National Park has Bronze Level Skies.

In the future the South Downs National Park Authority will use its role as a planning authority to protect the dark skies above the National Park as well as the landscape on the ground. Draft policies for the South Downs National Park’s Local Plan include specific lighting requirements that developers will need to meet.

Birling Gap Perseids meteor shower in August by Les Hunt
Birling Gap Perseids meteor shower in August by Les Hunt

Nocturnal Wildlife in Your Garden

Dark night skies are not only good for star-gazing, they help nocturnal wildlife such as moths and bats thrive. Here are a few tips on how you can encourage more nocturnal wildlife into your garden:

  • Turn off lights when not needed
  • Buy lamps under 500 lumens
  • Plant paler flowers to attract night-time insects
  • Install a batbox

Top tips for photographing night skies:

  • Use a tripod.
  • With the widest F-Stop available; experiment with ISO settings between 400–1600.
  • Use a 10 second delay (self-timer) and set the exposure to around 25–30 seconds ­– t­he delay will eliminate button-press shake.
  • Try briefly illuminating landscape features in the foreground by quickly flashing a torch.
  • Beat the cold. Wrap up warm and take spare batteries!

Download our leaflet about the South Downs International Dark Skies Reserve here.

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