Cranborne AONB’s bid to become an International Dark Sky Reserve

PUBLISHED: 12:03 07 March 2017 | UPDATED: 12:03 07 March 2017

Starry skies over Knowlton Church in Cranbourne AONB (Nigel A Ball Photography)

Starry skies over Knowlton Church in Cranbourne AONB (Nigel A Ball Photography)


Linda Nunn, director of Cranborne AONB tells us about their bid to make this area of Dorset an International Dark Sky Reserve and the benefits it would have for stargazers and the local economy

What is a Dark Sky Reserve?

An area that has an exceptional quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and public enjoyment. Accreditation for this is awarded by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) based in the USA ( 

What Dark Sky Reserves are there in the UK?

Dark Night Sky Reserves, the highest level of award given, are Breacon Beacons National Park (NP) and Snowdonia NP in Wales and Exmoor NP and South Downs NP in England. There are also Dark Sky Parks (Galloway Forest Park, Northumberland NP and Kielder Water & Forest Park) and some Dark Sky Communities.

Why is Cranborne AONB seeking Dark Sky status?

As 50% of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is above us, seeking for International Dark Sky Reserve status would conserve and enhance what we have. The Philips Dark Skies map shows a very dark area in central, southern England - it almost perfectly ‘fits’ the shape of Cranborne Chase (AONB). Bob Mizon MBE, who heads up the British Astronomical Associations Commission for Dark Skies, lives in Wimborne right on the edge of the AONB. He is helping us with our bid. 

Is it an important issue for you?

We would like International Dark Sky Reserve status for a multitude of reasons:

People: Sleep can be disrupted by too much light at night which can lead to more serious health issues

Wildlife: Many birds and animals are affected by stray light at night, affecting their breeding cycles and feeding habits.

Education: There is an increasing interest in astronomy. Stargazing is a wonderful educational activity accessible to all ages.

Money: Substantial savings can be made, and energy saved, by local authorities, businesses and individuals from turning off or dimming down unnecessary lighting.

Rural tourism: Other areas designated for their dark skies have seen greater visitor numbers, even in winter, leading to increased business for B&Bs, retailers and others. 

What work have you been doing towards this bid?

Over the past 18 months, we’ve been taking ‘sky quality readings’ all over the AONB, with the help of local astronomers. We need to plot where the darkest ‘core’ area is and then a buffer zone around it.

We’ve also held talks with the different organisations responsible for lighting: local authorities (street lighting), Highways England (major roads), businesses and residents, so we can work together to keep lighting only in the places it’s needed. It’s about shining the right kind of light, in the right place, at the right time.

We will need to have a ‘Lighting Management Plan’ agreed during 2017 that sets out how lighting will be managed into the future. If we’re fortunate enough to be awarded ‘Reserve’ status, the IDA expects an Annual Report detailing events, dark sky promotional activities and ongoing compliance. We will need to ensure any new lighting is to the agreed standard to maintain our fabulous starry skies. This will be done by Dark Skies volunteers. 

How are you raising awareness locally?

Getting the local community on board is very important. We are in the process of sorting out school based activities and talks to any interested clubs, Chambers of Commerce and in local village halls explaining the benefits of dark skies with stunning stargazing afterwards.

The market towns round the edge of the AONB can greatly affect the dark skies (you can see the ‘glow’ from Bournemouth and Poole at night from almost anywhere in the AONB) so raising awareness there is important too.

How can we support this bid?

We need as many supportive letters as possible! The IDA needs to know local communities are behind the application. You can write as an individual, as an interest group (scouts, brownies etc), parish council, school or business. Letters of support are arriving daily, we even had one from the Astronomer Royal, but if we could submit a hundred letters that would be fabulous! You can also pledge your support via the AONB website. 

Ways to support Cranborne AONB’s Dark Skies bid

Take the ‘Dark Skies Pledge’ at where you will find a Dark Skies leaflet and links to free star charts.

Record any harsh night time lighting in your area and email so the AONB can explore ways of removing unnecessary artificial glare from the night sky.

Improve the dark night sky by adjusting any of your lights downwards. Confine the light to the place to be illuminated.

Spread the word to others. If you’d like a talk on our wonderful starry skies or find out more about the bid, please email or call 01725 517417.

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