Celebrating the starry skies of National Parks

26 February 2020

CPRE's Emma Marrington tells us all about their star count! 

What is your first memory of seeing a dark starry sky? Some of my fondest childhood memories are of exploring Britain’s National Parks, trips my Mum would organise, usually staying in youth hostels. One of the things I remember most was how dark the nights were when we stayed in National Parks – such a contrast to where I grew up on the edge of London.

A particular memory is staying at Wheeldale youth hostel in the North York Moors National Park, which was a walk from Goathland, famed as the setting of TV series Heartbeat. We had taken a North York Moors Railway steam train to Goathland, then used a trusty Ordnance Survey map to find our way to the red triangle, which showed where the youth hostel was. It was very remote and when night fell, it was inky black and full of stars. I remember being so awe-struck! That youth hostel has since closed but the memory of it will always stay with me.

Creating amazing memories. Photo credit: CPRE

It’s wonderful to see that many National Parks are gaining international recognition for the quality of their night skies. In the UK, there are five Dark Sky Parks and five Dark Sky Reserves, including Exmoor, Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia, South Downs and Northumberland National Parks, with others working towards the award from the International Dark-Sky Association. Our Night Blight satellite maps of Britain’s night skies showed just how important National Parks are for protecting and enhancing the nation’s darkest skies. In England, 59% of skies over National Parks are the darkest possible, free of any light pollution. An example is the Northumberland National Park, with 96% of the area having pristine night skies and very little light pollution elsewhere. Just imagine the view of the stars!

At CPRE, we’re running our annual Star Count 21 - 28 February 2020 and we’d love everyone to take part! It’s a really fun way to engage in a spot of citizen science. We’re asking people to count the number of stars they can see in the Orion constellation, which will help us map the best and worst places for stargazing in the country. This information will be really useful, as it helps us build up a picture of where there’s too much artificial light spilling out into the sky and where people can get the best view of a star filled night sky.

Ribblehead Viaduct in the Yorkshire Dales. Photo credit: CPRE

How do I take part in the Star Count?

Star Count 2020 is a fun, easy activity and we’re encouraging everyone to take part – simply step outside after dark and enjoy the stars!

Find the constellation of Orion in the southern sky (look for the three bright stars on his famous belt). The constellation is a rough rectangle shape, with a star on each corner – bright orange Betelgeuse on the top left and icy blue Rigel on the bottom right. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness – the longer you wait, the better, then count all the stars you can see inside the rectangle (excluding the four stars on the corners).

The ideal dates to do your Star Count are between Friday 21 and Friday 28 February 2020, as that’s when the moon is least bright.

Families could make an evening of it: create stories about the characters and animals you see in the stars – and a spot of stargazing!

Find out more and send your results at www.cpre.org.uk/starcount - and this is where you will be able to access the results of the star count later in the spring too.

By Emma Marrington, Rural Enhancement Lead at CPRE, the Countryside Charity