Isle of Man could be first Dark Skies nation

A view of the stars from Langness. Photograph by Ron Strathdee

A view of the stars from Langness. Photograph by Ron Strathdee

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The Isle of Man has 26 offically designated Dark Sky sites, it was featured in an article in the BBC’s Sky at Night magazine recently and it has also been recognised in a series of stamps, but we still need to raise our profile to benefit from astronomy tourism.

That is the view of former Isle of Man Astromomical Society chairman Howard Parkin who has worked with the government to achieve our current dark sky sites.

‘While we are grateful for government support, we really need to go for Dark Sky Nation status,’ he said.

‘But at the moment this is still under review.’

The assessment is made by the International Dark Sky Association based in Arizona and if achieved, the Isle of Man could be the very first Dark Sky Nation. The original idea was to claim Dark Sky island status, until the Channel Island of Sark got there first.

‘We really need an MHK to come on board to promote it,’ said Mr Parkin, who used to work for Manx National Heritage but now spends his time giving presentations internationally promoting stargazing in the Isle of Man.

‘Particularly as the idea is now being embraced in the UK with sites in Scotland, Wales, Cumbria and North Yorkshire all being planned.’

A government spokesman said achieving the status of a Dark Sky Nation would cost around £30,000 but it would also require some changes to planning laws.

According to Mr Parkin, anyone can get Dark Sky Discovery status if they meet the criteria.

‘You could have it granted in your back garden provided you gave permission for the public to have access and it was accessible to disabled people and it was sufficiently dark. The requirement here is for the Milky Way to be visible.

‘But there’s nothing to stop anyone building next door and creating light pollution to ruin it.’

The advantage of Dark Sky Nation status would be changes to planning law which would afford some level of protection against light pollution.

In January this year it was announced that with 26 designated sites, the Isle of Man had the largest concentration of Dark Sky Discovery sites in the British Isles, which is promoted as a tourist attraction.

A number of the sites have tourist information boards explaining what can be seen in the night sky from that particular location. Light pollution means 85 per cent of the British population don’t experience a truly dark sky but astronomers in the Isle of Man benefit from a low population density and relatively few built up areas.

Mr Parkin, who now runs an astronomical consultancy business AstroManx started the bid for Dark Skies status in 2012. He is now keen to see the island maintain its lead by becoming the first Dark Sky Nation.

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