Elan Valley Estate in the Cambrian Mountains has achieved International Dark Sky Park status and become the first privately owned, but publicly accessible park in the world to do so.
The silver-tier status has been granted by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) based in Arizona, USA and means that the 45,000 acre estate is now protected against light pollution for the benefit of those who live and work there, as well as for visitors and for the abundance of wildlife found there.
The process to become an International Dark Sky Park began in November 2012 and was spearheaded by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water estate rangers and two local amateur astronomers, who are now volunteer astronomy rangers for the Estate. Over 200 individual light readings were taken at 13 sites over a 22 month period to demonstrate that the Estate would fit the criteria for this status.
Analysis of the data revealed that the Estate, "possessed exceptional starry skies and natural nocturnal habitat where light pollution is mitigated and natural darkness is valuable as an important educational, cultural, scenic, and natural resource" - one of the primary conditions for granting International Dark Sky Park status and so ideal for stargazing.
Ed Parsons, Area Lands Manager for Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, said: “I’m very excited that our spectacular night sky has been recognised by the International Dark Sky Association. This global recognition is testament to the hard work of our rangers and voluntary astronomers, without whom this would not have been possible. I would also like to thank the Elan Valley Trust for their support from the beginning of this process. We will continue to work in partnership with them and local residents to protect and enhance this feature of the Estate and welcome visitors to experience a truly dark sky at night.”
International Dark Sky Association Executive Director, J. Scott Feierabend, said: “Today IDA takes a major step forward in dark skies conservation by welcoming the Elan Valley as the first-ever privately owned International Dark Sky Park. Moving into the realm of private land conservation significantly extends the reach of protections for the natural night time environment."
Bob Mizon, Director of the British Astronomical Association's Commission for Dark Skies, said: "It's really exciting to see the Elan Valley joining the ranks of those places worldwide who are protecting our heritage of starry skies above. We look forward to the time when everyone will have the optimum night sky over them."
There are currently 25 Dark Sky Parks in the world including Galloway Forest Park in Scotland, Death Valley National Park in California, De Boschplaat in the Netherlands and Eifel International Dark Sky Park in Germany.
To find out more about the astronomical events run by the volunteer astro-rangers at the Estate please visit www.elanvalley.org.uk or call 01597 810880.