The spectacular display of a truly dark sky was once available to everyone. But now it is claimed that 10-15% of British citizens have never seen the Milky Way; light pollution has increased over the earth’s surface by 2% every year for the last four years.

Increasing light pollution can affect human health by disrupting the body’s natural circadian rhythm and ability to release melatonin naturally. Research has also suggested that excessive lighting and glare has a negative impact on the health and maintenance of our eyes. There is also the nocturnal wildlife which suffers. Artificial light and its reflective properties disrupt feeding cycles, and hunting, breeding and pollinating habits.

Since 2011, Friends of the Lake District has been concerned with the environmental and cultural value of dark skies. Since 2012, seven UK national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) have achieved international Dark Sky Reserve or Park status and we think it’s time for the Lake District National Park (LDNP) to join this worthy club committed to preserving and protecting dark skies.

Pictured: Derwentwater by Pete Collins

Our initial role in achieving Dark Sky Reserve status is to define the ‘core’ and ‘buffer’ of the Reserve. The core is defined as the area of greatest darkness and the buffer is usually where the settlements begin, whose nightscape of lighting will have an impact on the core. This is why the project involves not only the Lake District National Park but Cumbrian communities more widely. It is also important to point out that there are wonderful areas outside of the LDNP to enjoy dark skies, such as West Cumbria and the Eden Valley.

There are no shortcuts in the process of attaining Dark Sky Reserve status. We need to get communities, businesses, County and local councils, and the Lake District National Park Authority committed to delivering a light management plan that ensures the Lake District skies stay dark at their current levels or even darker. We also need enthusiastic volunteers to become Dark Sky Ambassadors to help with activities that enable more people to engage with Dark Skies. This includes taking Sky Quality Meter Readings and astrophotographic proof of the quality of our dark skies.

Pictured: Mars and Milky Way over Tarn Hows by Pete Collins

There is lots of activity already underway in the Lake District with respect to dark skies. There are several Dark Sky Discovery sites in the National Park: Ennerdale, Wasdale and Allan Bank. Regular stargazing programmes are provided at Grizedale Forest and Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre. There are four active astronomical societies in Cumbria alone. And there has probably never been a more exciting time to engage with the stars. Our understanding of the planets in our solar system, and the galaxies beyond, is continually increasing thanks to the steady stream of data and images gathered from the multitude of space craft currently in orbit today.

During winter 2019, we will be taking the Dark Sky Roadshow out to local communities, groups, and parish councils to talk about why our dark skies are worth preserving and about how we can approach our use of outdoor lighting in a sensible sustainable way. The Dark Sky movement is not about eradicating night lighting. We still need to provide a safe environment for our night time activities. But not all lighting is used effectively. For example, if unshielded lighting is producing glare, lighting becomes a nuisance or even a hazard. An important part of our work is to engage communities on how we can improve our outdoor lighting choices through better design, installation and sensible illumination duration. It also has significant potential towards reducing our carbon footprint and to be cost-saving. 

We are keen to collaborate with a range of organisations including arts bodies, community groups and tourism businesses to enable different sectors to benefit from and celebrate our dark skies.

If ever there was a candidate for World Heritage Status it is surely a dark sky featuring our Milky Way galaxy; shared, celebrated and accessible by everyone.

For more information about the Dark Sky Roadshow, please contact Johanna Korndorfer, Dark Skies Project Officer at [email protected]

For more information on our Dark Skies project, visit