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Stunning vibrant Milky Way composite image over landscape of Crummock Water in Lake District England

Dark skies in the Lake District aren’t just great for stargazing – they’re critical for the health and well-being of our native nocturnal wildlife. Every year, the amount of light pollution in Cumbria is increasing, posing a threat to wildlife and preventing us enjoying a clear view of the stars. This February sees the very first Dark Skies Festival held in Cumbria. The event celebrates the importance of dark skies, how we can enjoy them, and what we can do to reduce light pollution.


What are dark skies and why are they so important?

Dark skies are exactly what they sound like – areas of the sky that are naturally dark and aren’t affected by light pollution (artificial light created by humans). Many areas of the UK have now been awarded ‘dark sky’ status, highlighting them as excellent locations for stargazing and astronomy. It’s important to raise awareness of dark skies, not only so more people can enjoy the night sky, but light pollution can have harmful effects on wildlife so it’s essential we try to reduce it.

Around half of animal species are nocturnal, meaning they rely on the darkness of night time for their feeding and breeding routines. When the night sky is affected by light pollution, it can confuse animals and disturb their usual routines. Many prey animals also rely on the darkness for cover from predators, so lighter nights pose a larger threat to prey. On average, global light pollution is rising by 2% every year, but there are some things you can do to help at home.

Vibrant Milky Way composite image over landscape of Crummock Water in Lake District England


How can I help to reduce light pollution?

To help protect our dark skies, there are a few things everyone can do to reduce light pollution. Some top tips are:

  • Only install outdoor lighting where necessary – if your property already has street lights directly outside, consider whether or not you need an extra light as well
  • Use amber lighting – if you must install outdoor lighting, choose a warm, amber light as opposed to bright white (3000 kelvins or lower is best)
  • Direct lights downwards – direct your lights downwards or use a shield to stop light spreading unnecessarily. You only want to light up the area intended – aiming the light upwards will not be beneficial
  • Install motion sensors – lights that are activated by a motion sensor or a timer help to reduce unnecessary light, and will only come on when needed
  • Use a red light torch – if you’re out at night, a torch with red light will protect your night vision and help you to see better in the dark

 


What is the Cumbria Dark Skies Festival?

This February, Friends of the Lake District are holding a Cumbria Dark Skies Festival to raise awareness of dark skies in the Lake District. The first event of it’s kind to reach Cumbria, the exciting three day programme runs from Friday 21st – Sunday 23rd February 2020. The festival includes all kinds of events including stargazing sessions, planetarium workshops, photography lessons, guided walks and night time mountain biking. It’s a great opportunity for the whole family to learn more about dark skies in the Lake District, and what can be done to preserve them. Take a look at the full programme of events here. You can also find some other ideas on our blog about how to spend February Half Term in the Lake District.

Medium shot of a young female teacher explaining astronomy to students with planet models


Stargazing locations in the Lake District

With beautiful remote valleys and wide open, natural spaces there’s a great range of stargazing locations to enjoy dark skies in the Lake District. Some of the best spots are:

Stunning vibrant Milky Way composite image over landscape of Lake District landscape in England


Stargazing tips

If you want to enjoy dark skies in the Lake District but have never tried stargazing before, the Cumbria Dark Skies Festival would be the perfect place to start. If you can’t make it to the festival, here’s some tips on how to get stargazing yourself:

  • Wear warm layers and take blankets & cushions to sit on
  • Use a red torch to protect your night vision and keep light pollution to a minimum
  • Allow at least 20 minutes for your eyes to acclimatise to the darkness
  • Telescopes & binoculars can help get a closer look at constellations, but you can see most formations with the naked eye
  • Download apps such as Google Sky Map to help identify different stars & planets
  • If you’d like to photograph the stars, make sure to take a tripod and use slow shutter speeds to get the best results
  • Take a hot drink in a flask and some snacks to keep you going – you can easily spend hours getting lost in the stars!

Couple under a tree stargazing at the night sky