Fiona Finch reports on why the team at Bowland‘s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty want visitors to look up.
When did you last look at the skies above Lancashire?
If you have not been gazing heavenwards you are missing out - but only if you know where to go to avoid light pollution.
Not surprisingly for a county which, along with its major urban centres also boasts large tracts of farmland, moors and uplands, Lancashire is home to some of the best stargazing sites in the country.
This was recognised when parts of the Bowland Forest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) received official Dark Sky status.
AONB manager Elliott Lorimer said: “ We want people to see how beautiful the AONB is once the sun has set. We’re fortunate to have much less light pollution here in Bowland, compared with more built up areas, and this opens up a whole new world to discover after dark.”
In a bid to share the joys of such star spotting in the darkest of skies the AONB team has arranged its second Dark Skies Festival which will run from February 17 - 23.
Bowland AONB Events Officer Sandra Silk has seen for herself the beauty of the Bowland sky, after taking part in last year’s inaugural Dark Skies Festival.
She said: “It was really nice to do something different and to concentrate on looking at this different aspects of Bowland.”
“It’s just the intensity of the starscape really It’s hard when you’ve not seen it to describe it. There’s hardly space between the stars sometimes when you get a really clear night. There’s just so much to look at you couldn’t cover it all in one visit - it’s good to come at different times of year.”
She noted winter is good because of the longer nights, but then again a visit in September would reward you with a different experience of star spotting. Sandra added: “There’s always something new to see.”
The Dark Skies project was first initiated by Bowland colleague Sustainable Tourism Officer Hetty Byrne, with the intention to encourage visitors to come to Bowland at different times of year and enjoy a different experience of the landscape, as well as boosting the visitor economy.
Another aim was to alert the public to the issue of light pollution.
Sandra said: “ The aim was to get people to think about light pollution and what we’re missing if we have too much of it.”
That light pollution can come from sources such as street lights and lit up buildings.
Last year’s Festival attracted visitors from near and further afield.
Sandra said: “It would be fantastic if they can come back to Bowland. Also where they live they might get a chance to see some stars and they’ll just be aware what’s up there.
“It gives people a new experience. You don’t need equipment, just your eyes.”
She acknowledged that some equipment is a bonus: “It’s great if you’ve got binoculars and a star chart.”
In all, there are five designated Dark Sky Discovery Sites in Bowland AONB, all with parking facilities, located at:
•Beacon Fell Country Park
•Gisburn Forest Hub
•Slaidburn village car park
•the Crook o’ Lune Picnic Site
•Clerk Laithe Lodge Guest House at Newton in Bowland, a private business which has gained Dark Sky accreditation
This year’s Festival includes events which are especially suitable for families/accompanied children. Booking is essential for all the events listed below:
• February 17: Pop-up planetarium with amateur astronomer and professional scientist Robert Ince, in Knowle Green, near Longridge at 1pm, 2pm and 3 pm, £2.50 per person
• February 18: Dark sky tales with storyteller Sue Allonby and Forestry England in the yurt at Gisburn Forest 7pm - 8.30pm. £3 per child (adults free). This event is suitable for youngsters aged eight and over.
• February 20: Owl pellet dissection and dusk nature walk with the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership’s Outdoor Learning Officer Alison Cross at Whitehough in Barley, 4pm - 6.30pm. This event is free of charge and suitable for accompanied children aged four to 12.
• February 21: Screening of Wallace & Gromit’s ‘A Grand Day Out’ plus children’s crafts and cheese tasting with Pendle Social Cinema and the Pendle Hill project in Downham at 1.30pm - 2.30pm or 3pm - 4pm. £2.50 per person.
• February 23: Astronomy presentation and star gazing with Robert Ince and Wyre Coast & Countryside Service in Bleasdale, near Chipping, 7.30pm - 9.30pm, £15 or £7.50.
Meanwhile 13 local tourism businesses have taken training to become Dark Sky Friendly.This involved attending a training workshop and opting to reduce light pollution at their business. They are listed on the AONB’s website and can provide information about star gazing in the area.
Sandra advises festival goers wrap up warmly. She said: “Bring stout shoes or wellingtons - it’s going to be dark. A torch is always handy.”
The AONB has been working with Robert Ince on sustainable tourism for the past five or six years.
Sandra added that as an added bonus visitors will enjoy the health boost of being outdoors and can take their knowledge home and look up at the night sky and see just which stars they can spot.
Elliott advises early booking for what look set to be very popular events. He said: “Knowing how popular the events were last year, we recommend early booking for our 2020 programme.”
* See www.forestofbowland.com/bowland-dark-skies-festival-1