Following a successful inaugural Dark Skies Festival, Exmoor National Park Authority is launching a suite of new initiatives to further celebrate Exmoor’s status as Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve.
Over 2,000 people enjoyed 35+ events during the first ever Exmoor Dark Skies Festival, sponsored by Airband, held over half term. Despite cloud cover during many events, the festival was a resounding success with the vast majority of events being fully booked in advance and visitors drawn from across the UK and beyond.
Exmoor became the very first International Dark Sky Reserve to be designated in Europe in 2011. The festival sought to celebrate the opportunities this provides as well as to give a boost to tourism outside of the peak season. Highlights included dusk safaris, stargazing adventures, wild glow-stick swimming, an Astro Party and a giant mobile planetarium. Over 200 schoolchildren took part in a night-time adventure at Wimbleball as part of the festival and a new short film was premiered. The film incorporates stunning imagery of Exmoor’s dark skies and introductions to some of the wonders that can be explored. The film will be available in the Lynmouth and Dunster National Park Centres as well as via the Exmoor National Park YouTube channel.
Now the Exmoor National Park Authority is looking to build on this success.
150,000 Euros has been secured from the European Regional Development Fund (via the Interreg Atlantic area programme) to boost Astro Tourism in the area further. The AtlanticNetSky project will see Exmoor working with partners across the Atlantic area in places such as the Canary Islands, Spain, Ireland and Portugal to develop a network of astro-tourism destinations. There will be opportunities to share learning from across Europe and to develop a shared marketing programme. Locally there will be support for Exmoor businesses to develop new astronomy related tourism products, provision of a Dark Sky Discovery hub and training opportunities.
The National Park Authority is also hosting a family stargazing weekend at their Pinkery Centre for Outdoor Learning from 16 to 18 March 2018. The weekend, in the heart of the Dark Sky Reserve, will provide families and groups with an interest in astronomy the opportunity to discover together through the expertise of astronomer and author Seb Jay.
“Our status as Europe’s first International Dark Sky reserve is of immense value to Exmoor. It recognises the fact that we have some of the darkest skies in the country and that we’re proactively working to conserve them,” said Dan James, Sustainable Economy Manager at Exmoor National Park. “More than that, it provides a great opportunity to encourage more people to visit and stay longer outside of the peak season. We are really pleased with how the festival has gone – not only did we attract new visitors to the area, we also engaged with many local communities and several businesses put on their own events within the festival programme. We are grateful to all those that were involved in supporting the festival from our sponsor, Airband, to those that volunteered to help events run smoothly.
“Looking ahead we’re excited to have the opportunity to work with some of Europe’s leading astro-tourism destinations to share learning and experiences and support our businesses to further utilise this unique asset.”
For further details visit www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/enjoying/stargazing
The Exmoor Dark Skies festival from the 19 – 29 October 2017 has something for all and provides some great half terms activities for families.
Local children and adults can experience the marvels of the stars above during a mobile planetarium session at Lynton (23 October), Dulverton (24 October), or Dunster (28 October) as part of the inaugural festival, whatever the weather. The sessions, lasting from 45 minutes to 1 hour, offer a 360-degree-space learning experience. High-resolution images, movies and sophisticated computer simulations are projected throughout Space Odyssey’s inflatable dome – above, behind and all around the audience – to create a breathtakingly immersive and inspirational experience.
Every fascinating session will be led by Simon Ould, an experienced science teacher and Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. Simon uses his extensive teaching knowledge to carefully adapt the delivery and content of each presentation for the particular group involved. Simon said, “Adults and children are often blown-away by an experience in our dome. I’m delighted to be bringing our 6.5 metre Voyager dome to Exmoor as part of the Dark Skies Festival.
“For many children a session in the dome introduces them to the wider world, solar system and the universe for the first time. It really is unforgettable and can impact a child’s understanding for the rest of their life.”
The dome sessions start from just £3 for a child and £5 for an adult and advance booking is highly recommended. Sessions at Dunster also include some solar and stargazing and a workshop with astro-physics students from Exeter University. Visit www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/darkskiesfestival for more details, session times and booking. Alternatively call the Lynmouth National Park Centre on 01598 752509 (open 7 days).
There are over 35 events across Exmoor throughout the festival, which is sponsored by Airband. The festival is officially launched on Friday 20 October at Winsford Village Hall with the premier of a new short film on Exmoor’s Dark Skies followed by a presentation on Exmoor’s Dark Skies and opportunities to see the Northern Lights by presenter and astronomer Will Gater. Other events include a guide to Astrophotography with Dr Lillian Hobbs of the Royal Photographic Society on 19 October, special film showings of ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and ‘Space Odyssey 2001’ and opportunities for a glow stick night swim with Channel Adventure.
Katrina Munro of the Exmoor National Park Authority said, “We’ve had huge interest in the festival with many events already fully booked, but there’s plenty of opportunities to enjoy the planetarium sessions and other events. Exmoor was the very first International Dark Sky Reserve to be designated in all of Europe and we are excited to be able to help people enjoy them during this festival. We’re hoping for clear skies but the vast majority of the events will be running whatever the weather.”
The full programme has been produced and event booking has now opened for the first Exmoor Dark Skies Festival from 19 to 29 October celebrating the National Park’s status as Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. There are more than 25 events to appeal to families and children, as well as those more experienced in watching the stars.
The festival is sponsored by Airband. Managing Director, Redmond Peel, said, “We’re delighted to be sponsoring the very first Dark Skies Festival. Over the last two years Airband have worked closely with Exmoor National Park on the roll out of superfast broadband, so it’s a great opportunity to be involved with the festival focussing on just some of the incredible and unique phenomena Exmoor has to offer.”
At the start of the festival over 500 schoolchildren will be on Exmoor to learn about the night skies before the festival launch event with astronomer, journalist and presenter Will Gater. The launch will include the first public showing of a new film all about Exmoor’s Dark Skies followed by a talk about viewing the stars and Milky Way from Exmoor as well as rarer phenomena such as the Northern Lights which people might not think they could see or photograph from so far south.
Other indoor events include an astro-photography talk, a special film showing of 2001: Space Odyssey and art displays as well as several planetarium sessions all around Exmoor. The planetarium offers inspirational and immersive 360-degree experiences of the solar system. 3D digital projections are created using sophisticated computer simulations, presented by an experienced astronomer to take you deep into the wonders of space.
For families there will be an amazing Astro Party at Wimbleball Lake, with fun hands-on sessions and virtual-reality experiences as well as traditional stargazing and a night-time forest walk and campfire. For the more adventurous there is night-time mountain biking, a night swim or an exhilarating night-navigation walk with a National Park Ranger. Other outdoor activities include dusk safaris and a guided night walk up to Dunkery Beacon – the highest point on Exmoor.
Exmoor National Park’s Katrina Munro, who is co-ordinating the festival, said, “Interest has already been high including international enquiries and media coverage. The printed Festival Programme can now be collected from National Park Centres and our online booking facility has also opened enabling visitors to plan in advance. This is the first festival of its kind on Exmoor and we’re looking forward to introducing many people to the wonders above!”
Full details of the Dark Skies Festival events and online booking is available from the National Park’s website www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/enjoying/stargazing/dark-skies-festival . Advanced booking is highly recommended to guarantee entry to events and a special early bird discount of 10% is available for many events booked before the 15 September.
On Tuesday 13 December, 6.30pm-8.00pm, join Seb Jay, author of Exmoor Dark Skies, for a talk and guided stargazing tour at Wimbleball Lake near Dulverton.
Highlights of the evening will include:
- Seeing the December full moon through a telescope and a red supergiant on the verge of collapsing into a supernova!
- Learning how to find Mars in the December night sky
- Finding star clusters thousands of light years away with a telescope
The format of the evening will be dictated by the weather conditions.
Participants will gather in the Activity Centre Barn for a 20-minute talk to prep them on what they are looking out for in the night sky. They will then head outside where there will be telescopes in situ overlooking the lake for people to use.
Participants will gather in the Activity Centre Barn for a longer illustrated talk on what you can see from Wimbleball Lake at this time of year. There will also be an orbits activity to demonstrate why we have a full moon that night and Seb will also bring along a ‘build a constellation’ activity, plus an alien hunt!
Seb will also be signing and selling copies of his book, plus astronomy gift vouchers – ideal Christmas presents!
Refreshments will be provided by the Duck Café from 6pm in the Activity Centre.
Tickets are limited and cost only £7 for adults and £5 for children. For more information or to book call 01398 371460 or visit www.swlakestrust.org.uk/book. The event will be listed under ‘conservation event’.
PHOTO by Richard Wiltshire