HOMEOWNERS and holidaymakers at a Lakeland holiday park will be invited to take part in a series of dark deeds this year.
Skelwith Fold Caravan Park in Ambleside is to ask visitors on six designated nights to extinguish their caravan lights in order to enjoy one of England’s biggest star attractions.
The park’s owner, Henry Wild, says more than 7,000 stars will be visible, including the Milky Way and far-off galaxies which few people will ever have glimpsed before.
Skelwith’s switch-off nights, monthly in spring and summer, are part of its support for the British Astronomical Association’s Campaign for Dark Skies, of which it is a member.
Lakeland is one of Britain’s best dark-sky areas for star watching, and Skelwith Fold’s location gives it other special advantages.
“We are elevated above nearby villages, and have a natural shield from outside light in the form of a surrounding forest – so clear nights can be breathtakingly beautiful,” said Henry. “If we can also persuade guests to douse their lights for half an hour on selected nights, they should be able to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.”
But it’s not the pretty celestial sights that prompted Skelwith Fold to become a campaigner for darker skies. Light pollution can have a devastating effect on wildlife, Henry pointed out, and especially on the types of animals and birds that can be seen on the park, which David Bellamy has described as a “wildlife wonderland”.
“Owls and other night-hunting birds are threatened because light pollution reduces their number of feeding habitats,” he said. “Bats are also affected as the light draws insects away from where they feed. Under light-polluted skies, birds often chirp through the night which prevents them from resting properly and can disrupt their breeding patterns.
“By contrast, nights at Skelwith are completely quiet, and our dawn chorus begins much earlier because birds don’t have to wait until the sun has overpowered the light pollution.”
Henry hopes extra-starry nights will also inspire people to think more deeply about themselves and the planet. “Problems can be reduced in significance when you see the bigger picture, so in some ways we’re offering a break for the mind as well as the body,” he said.
Switch-offs will be advised on the morning of favourable weather forecasts, and will be optional – but every lost light will make a difference, said Henry.