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Dark Sky

The Yorkshire Dales is home to some of the darkest skies in the country. We’re proud to have large areas of unpolluted night sky where it’s possible to see the Milky Way, planets, meteors and even the Northern Lights. 

This is one of the special qualities of the Yorkshire Dales, and why we’re thrilled to have gained international recognition as an official Dark Sky Reserve, which will help raise awareness, conserve and celebrate this special quality.

A stunning image of a clear night sky above Pendragon Castle in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
An image of stars in the clear night sky above Pendragon Castle

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Dark Sky Reserve

An International Dark Sky Reserve is a designated area of public/private land possessing exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment. Dark Sky Reserves are designated by DarkSky International (formerly International Dark-Sky Association).

A Reserve consists of a core area which, on designation, must meet the criteria for natural darkness and be of a high quality as well as a peripheral (buffer) area that supports the dark sky in the core. The whole of the Yorkshire Dales National Park has been designated a Dark Sky Reserve, the largest in the UK, with the core area comprising a large arc of land around (but not including) Hawes. 

It covers the upper ends of Swaledale, Rawthey valley, Garsdale, Littondale and Wharfedale (30% of the National Park).  Within the core area, residential lighting is already 90% dark sky friendly, so the majority of existing lighting is DarkSky-compliant, with the level of compliance higher than many of the Dark Skies Reserves already designated in the UK.

Other National Parks and National Landscapes including the North York Moors, South Downs, Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons, and Exmoor, are also Dark Sky Reserves, but our night skies are generally much darker because there is less light pollution. 

This accolade provides a great opportunity to celebrate our exceptional dark skies, promoting locations, events and businesses which provide opportunities to look up into the night sky.  As well as enhancing habitats for our wildlife, improving our health and wellbeing and bringing increased economic benefit to our tourist industry. 

It also gives opportunity to enhance our dark skies by giving increased importance to appropriate lighting – sensitive to the impact on its surroundings.  An additional benefit being to reduce unnecessary consumption of electricity thereby minimising carbon footprint and energy costs for properties.

Comet Neowise – Kingsdale by Andy Ward

Our Dark Sky Reserve Application

Our application for designation as an International Dark Sky Reserve was submitted in September 2020 and approval was granted on November 20th 2020. You can read our application in full here and achieving Dark Sky Reserve status was one of the objectives set out in our Yorkshire Dales National Park Management Plan. You can find out more about that work here.

At the time of application a set criteria had to be met to gain the status this includeds:

  • Light meter readings to show the area is of sufficient quality and to identify the darkest ‘core area’ of the proposed Reserve. 
  • At least 67% of properties had to have ‘dark sky friendly’ lighting at the time of application – and we already had 90% of residential properties meeting this criterion.
  • Support shown from at least 80% of the area and population. 71 Parishes expressed support, which is 84% by population and 81% by area.
The dark sky over Ribblehead by Andy Ward

What happens now

What happens now we have become a Dark Sky Reserve? Will it mean more restrictions? Dark Sky Reserve status doesn’t mean less lighting, it means thinking about good lighting!

Planning applications

No change – The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has asked for details of lighting schemes as part of planning applications since 2006. Our dark skies are already recognised as a special quality of the National Park and National Planning Policy works to protect them.

Street lighting

We are working with the district and county councils to ensure when street lights are replaced they replace with 3000K not 4000K colour lighting (ie warm white not cool white)

Existing lighting

The traditional nature of our buildings and associated lighting means most lighting in the National Park is already ‘good’ lighting for dark skies. However, when replacing lighting we want people to think about what they are choosing:

Tourism and appreciation of our Night Sky

Since 2016, we have worked with businesses and run an annual Dark Skies Festival during February half-term. This has grown year on year and obtaining international Dark Sky Reserve status will help it develop further – encouraging staying visitors out of season. In 2020 we held two virtual Dark Sky Festivals which proved even more popular. We plan more virtual events in future years.

Our visitor survey and comments we have received show how much our visitors, really appreciate our dark skies and the lack of light pollution – in complete contrast to the urban areas where they live. Something we want to celebrate and not take for granted.  

Come For The Stay

The Autumn and Winter months in particular are a great time to experience our dark skies and there plenty of Dark Sky Friendly Businesses to stay at. You can view a list of them here.

Dark Sky Festival 2020 in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
‘Go Stargazing ‘at Wensleydale Ice Cream, Thornton Rust

Find out more

Find out more about how to make your lighting dark sky friendly by downloading our Good Lighting Advice leaflet.

Find out how you can become a Dark Sky Friendly business.

Find out why our dark sky needs protecting

Each February we host a Dark Skies Festival. The next Festival will be from 14 February to 02 March 2025.

How can you enjoy the dark sky more? We’ve got more on what you can do to enjoy the stars.

Lady Hill, Wensleydale

This image below, which you can download, shows the level of night light shining up into the night sky. These have been categorised into colour bands to distinguish between different light levels. The percentage of pixels that fall within each band is shown as percentage in the chart.

This Yorkshire Dales National Park 'Night Blight Map' shows the level of night light shining up into the night sky.
Night Blight Map