Is your community dark sky friendly?

January 3, 2017

Whether it’s a park, a playing field or a meadow, there is almost certainly a local spot near you where you can see the stars on a clear night.

Over the past year South Downs Ranger Laura Deane, has been working with local organisations and communities to get more of these spots named as official Dark Sky Discovery Sites – places where local people, visitors, schools and groups know that they can go to enjoy the night sky.

We asked Laura for her top tips on how to find and protect the dark skies in your parish, village or community:

  • Find your site. Becoming a Dark Sky Discovery Site (DSDS) can be a very simple process. Your site needs to have reasonably dark skies, be a public space with good viewpoints and have an area of 100m2. There needs to be somewhere for people to park and access for wheelchairs and, most importantly, you need permission from the landowner to use it.
  • Measure the darkness. Official Dark Sky Discovery Sites are classed as Orion or Milky Way sites. For the former you should be able to see the seven main stars of the Orion constellation with your naked eye. The latter need to be much darker so that you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye. The International Dark-Sky Association recommend several apps you can download to get a rough measurement but you will need a Sky Quality Meter (SQM) to get an official measurement – contact us if you’ve found a site and want to confirm it.
  • Get support. Find your local astronomical society to see if they’ll support your application or plans. Most will be listed on the SAGAS website.
  • Get permission. Getting permission from the landowner can sometimes be tricky – not everyone wants to encourage night time access to their land – but if the site is owned by the parish or community who’s members would like to apply, then it becomes much easier.
  • Check out other sites. One of the newest sites in the National Park is on Iping Common, a Two Star site owned by the Sussex Wildlife Trust. If you’re looking for inspiration it’s hard to imagine a better spot.
  • Think big. Alternatively your town or parish could apply to become an International Dark Sky Community (IDSC). This is a more complicated process as you need to prove exceptional dedication to preserving the night sky. Your community will need to work together to implement and enforce good outdoor lighting, be committed to dark sky education and show that local people really support the application.

Since the National Park became an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2016 we’ve had one parish show an interest in becoming IDSCs. Meanwhile we hope that applications for new official DSD Sites will reopen in 2017. If you want advice or help with any work with dark skies please get in touch and please join in the first ever South Downs Dark Skies Festival from Friday 10 to Sunday 26 February 2017.

Find your local South Downs ranger

Find out more about the South Downs Dark Skies Festival