Galloway Forest’s Dark Sky Park has a vital role to play in raising awareness of light pollution whilst also boosting the local economy through stargazing tourism.
This was the message from Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham today as she opened the first ever Dark Sky Places conference to be held in Europe.
Galloway’s Dark Sky Park received its designation back in 2009 and was the fifth in the world and first in the UK to be established.
Not only has the park helped increase interest in stargazing, it has the potential to bring in over £860,000 each year to the local economy.
The conference, on Thursday 21st September, is the first of its kind in Europe, bringing together some of the world’s top dark sky experts with the aim of promoting stargazing tourism, rural development and tackling light pollution issues.
Ms Cunningham said: “Scotland’s natural environment, including its dark sky places, is one of its unique selling points and one that we should never take for granted.
“Dark sky places have an important part to play in raising awareness of light pollution and its effects on people and the environment. However, we can share best practice and use more efficient technologies to reduce energy consumption and overall light pollution.
“Dark sky places can improve our environment and provide a big attraction for stargazers from all over the world and this can bring a welcome boost for local economies. It’s a win win situation.”
Forest Enterprise Scotland manages the Galloway Dark Sky Park and worked with Dumfries and Galloway Council to produce award winning guidance on how to protect the night sky across the region. Both South & East Ayrshire councils have followed, ensuring the entire south west of Scotland is truly protected.
In addition, Dumfries and Galloway Council installed new street lighting across the region that is more efficient and creates less light pollution. Local businesses have been encouraged to join the drive to reduce light pollution.
The Galloway Dark Sky Park, which sits at the core of the Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, has been a big hit with tourists.
Four freelance Biosphere & Dark Sky Rangers have been trained specifically to take guided night sky events and host talks on both designations.
The Scottish Government recently published its Programme for Government which highlighted tourism as a vital part of the economy. The dark sky park in Galloway is mentioned as an innovative project supporting the tourism industry.
Keith Muir, Forest Enterprise Scotland’s recreation and tourism manager was instrumental in setting up the Galloway Dark Sky Park. He added:
“Astronomy or star gazing is growing all the time. It’s now a subject which is capturing the imagination of both young and old people – most likely because digital technology is making it so much more accessible.
“Dark sky places are a fantastic natural asset which can inspire and educate but importantly create a better understanding of our environment. It’s great that the National Forest Estate in Galloway is contributing to this in such a positive way.
“This conference is bringing together international experts for the first time so that we drive forward the environmental, economic and social benefits that dark sky places bring.”
Around 4% of the UK’s landmass is now covered by dark sky places.
More information on Galloway Dark Sky Park and the conference is available online.