Often we have a tendency to take every day experiences for granted, not valuing them until they’re under threat and we’re in danger of losing them altogether. Covid lock-down has revealed this quite starkly. 

Generations of Homo-sapiens have looked up to the heavens to see the Milky Way and star constellations. It helps ground us and gives a sense of perspective about our place in the universe. There does seem a growing interest in start gazing, night-time photography and nocturnal nature and the night sky. 

Perhaps no wonder then with light pollution on the increase and growing awareness about the issue, when we visit a new place and take the time to look at our surroundings we enjoy the stars in the night sky all the more. As Lonely Planet’s Travel Trends article in 2019 says: ‘Astrotourists are reconnecting with something that has a deep, primitive meaning to humans.’(1) 

A central motivation behind many of the Dark Skies areas in the UK is the opportunity to strengthen the tourism economy, particularly extending activity into the winter season. Dark Skies are also seen as a core quality of tranquillity and the special qualities of the landscapes in the National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty who have/or are seeking Dark Sky Park or Reserve status.

A Dark Sky Park Economic Impact Assessment, November 2013 looked at the impact on local business a year after Galloway Forest Park in Scotland became an International Dark Skies Association (IDA) Dark Sky Park.(2) The report found that for every £1 spent on installing dark sky friendly lighting in the area, there was a return on investment of £1.93, due to an increase in tourism, and concluded that the economic benefits are probably much more. In the case of the Kielder Water and Northumberland National Park Dark Skies Park, a survey of tourism businesses in 2017 revealed there was a £25million+ boost to the local economy, supporting 450 jobs.

Tourism wise it’s a no-brainer. As Mike Zeller said on Radio on Cumbria introducing our report on CPRE’s The Countryside Charity Star Count 2020 findings (28.5.2020), it’s a free display! Research by VisitEngland 2017 showed that 23% of the UK domestic audience is interested or very interested in a stargazing experience. With predictions of greater staycation holidays for the foreseeable future, Dark Skies and star gazing are featuring strongly in all aspects of domestic tourism marketing and information. Cumbria Tourism will be using Dark Skies as a key recovery brand to help strengthen businesses over the winter months as the Corona movement restrictions ease. 

Obviously, enjoying our Dark Skies and tackling light pollution are two sides of the same coin. We must not erode the very qualities through activity or developments which adds unnecessary artificial light into our night time environment. The old ‘Golden-goose’ principle! 

(1). https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/travel-trends-for-2019-dark-skies

(2). https://forestryandland.gov.scot/images/corporate/pdf/dark-sky-park-eia-report.pdf

(3). https://www.visitbritain.org/sites/default/files/vb-corporate/Documents-Library/documents/England-documents/ve_activities_summary_-_astronomy_star_gazing.pdf