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Oct 18, 2019

Cranborne Chase AONB becomes the 14th International Dark Sky Reserve in the world

Cranborne Chase becomes the first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the country to be designated in its entirety as an International Dark-Sky Reserve

Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), one of the UK’s finest landscapes, has today (18th October 2019) been formally designated an International Dark-Sky Reserve (IDSR) by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) based in Tucson, USA.

Chase AONB becomes the 14th Reserve across the globe, and joins an exclusive club of International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Protected Areas to gain international recognition for its dark skies.

“Some people are lucky enough to recognise ‘the Plough’, but for others, seeing stars and their constellations is often impossible because of light pollution. Here in Cranborne Chase we can see the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy, if the clouds allow!” said Linda Nunn, Director of Cranborne Chase AONB.

Adam Dalton, International Dark-Sky Places Program Manager at the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), said: “Cranborne Chase has the largest central area of darkness of any International Dark-Sky Reserve in the UK. It is a huge area of land at almost 1000 sq kms, and less than 2 hours from London and Bristol. For those living and visiting this beautiful area, this is something to be celebrated and enjoyed.”

Linda Nunn, continued: “We think of our beautiful landscapes as being on the ground, but 50% of our landscape is above our heads, in the sky. The quality of our night sky is so important and this isn’t just for the benefit of astronomers. There are huge benefits for nocturnal wildlife, our own human health and wellbeing, for education, tourism and for energy saving. We’re thrilled to be playing our part.”

Bob Mizon, who leads the Commission for Dark Skies in the UK and has played a major supporting role in the application, added: “You can’t fail to be amazed by the show the night sky puts on when you’re in Cranborne Chase AONB on a clear night. This dark sky status helps to keep it that way for future generations.”

The Reserve designation can only be given by the IDA to those areas that enjoy exceptional starry skies and have pledged to protect and improve them for future generations.

This is the culmination of over ten years’ work by the Dark Sky project team at the AONB led by Amanda Scott for the last 18 months. 

To achieve International Dark-Sky Reserve status, Cranborne Chase AONB was put through a series of stringent checks by the IDA.

Linda Nunn, continued: “We have taken meter readings of the darkness of the night sky for several years and we are hugely grateful to the Wessex Astronomical Society for their support. We must also thank Bob Mizon as we could not have achieved this without his help, or the support of the local authorities and parish councils and we look forward to working with them as we continue to improve our dark skies.

“Although huge amounts of work have already been done to achieve this status, we must continually improve our dark skies. Dark sky friendly schemes with schools, business, parishes and landowners are being developed and Wiltshire Council, which administers two-thirds of the area, has already agreed to upgrade its street lighting. This will make a significant contribution and will help us continually improve our dark sky quality. This is a requirement of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) to ensure we maintain our exclusive status.”

Cranborne Chase AONB joins a prestigious group of areas around the world that are certified IDA International Dark-Sky Reserves:

·         Aoraki Mackenzie (New Zealand)

·         Brecon Beacons National Park (Wales)

·         Central Idaho (U.S.)

·         Cévennes National Park (France)

·         Exmoor National Park (England)

·         Kerry (Ireland)

·         Mont-Mégantic (Québec) 

·         Moore's Reserve (South Downs, England)

·         NamibRand Nature Reserve (Namibia)

·         Pic du Midi (France)

·         Rhön (Germany)

·         Snowdonia National Park (Wales)

·         Westhavelland (Germany)

Cranborne Chase is a unique International Dark Sky Reserve in the way it has had to draw together the lighting policies, practices and controls of its partner authorities and organisations.

Work has included auditing external light fittings within the AONB, consulting with the local planning authorities, and working with local communities and parishes to achieve non-polluting good lighting and providing training on reducing light pollution for everyone.

The AONB organises a programme of dark sky events and communications throughout the year, including stargazing evenings, talks, as well as school visits and workshops. For more details, please visit www.chasingstars.org.uk.

Cranborne Chase AONB is 981 sq kms (380 sq mls) and is the 6th largest AONB in the country. It straddles parts of Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset. For more information on the Cranborne Chase AONB, log on to www.ccwwdaonb.org.uk.

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Notes to Editors:


For interviews or photographs, contact Mel Capper at Cranborne Chase AONB on 07786 388158 or email melcapper@cranbornechase.org.uk

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) runs the International Dark Sky Places (IDSP) Program. Founded in 2001, it encourage communities, parks and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education.


The International Dark Sky Places Program offers six types of designations:


1.    International Dark Sky Communities
Communities are legally organized cities and towns that adopt quality outdoor lighting ordinances and undertake efforts to educate residents about the importance of dark skies.

2.    International Dark Sky Parks
Parks are publicly or privately owned spaces protected for natural conservation that implement good outdoor lighting and provide dark sky programs for visitors.

3.    International Dark Sky Reserves
Reserves consist of a dark “core” zone surrounded by a populated periphery where policy controls are enacted to protect the darkness of the core.

4.    International Dark Sky Sanctuaries
Sanctuaries are the most remote (and often darkest) places in the world whose conservation state is most fragile.

5.    Urban Night Sky Places
UNSPs are sites surrounded by large urban environs whose planning and design actively promote an authentic nighttime experience in the midst of significant artificial light at night, and that otherwise do not qualify for designation within any other International Dark Sky Places category.

6.    Dark Sky Friendly Developments of Distinction
Dark Sky Friendly Developments of Distinction recognize subdivisions, master planned communities, and unincorporated neighborhoods and townships whose planning actively promotes a more natural night sky but does not qualify them for the International Dark Sky Community designation.

Where are the International Dark Sky Places located?
As of August 2019, there are over 120 certified IDSPs in the world. See where they are located interactive map.

How are International Dark Sky Places designated?
IDA designates IDSPs following a rigorous application process requiring applicants to demonstrate robust community support for dark sky protection and document designation-specific program requirements.

Applications are reviewed bimonthly by an IDA standing committee composed of dark sky experts and previously successful program applicants. Regular status updates ensure that designated places continue their commitment to dark sky preservation.

Upon certification, IDA works with certified places to promote their work through media relations, member communications, and social media. An International Dark Sky Place designation helps enhance the visibility of designated locations and foster increased tourism and local economic activity.

Cranborne Chase AONB Top 10 Stargazing Locations

1.       King Alfred’s Tower
Kingsettle Hill, South Brewham, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0LB

King Alfred’s Tower is a striking 160ft (49m) folly, built in 1772 for Henry Hoare II, known as Henry the Magnificent, the designer of the iconic Stourhead gardens. It is believed to mark the site where King Alfred the Great rallied his troops in 878. The tower commemorates the accession of George III to the throne in 1760 and the end of the Seven Years War. Henry would surely have appreciated the majesty of the night sky as much as his own creations and this site provides a perfect spot from which to admire the beauty above.

Grid reference: ST778340
Facilities: Car park
Owner: The National Trust

2.       Dinton Park
St Mary's Road, Dinton, Wiltshire SP3 5HH

Perfectly described by the National Trust as “far-reaching rolling parkland with tranquil views in the grounds of a Neo-Grecian house”. Please note that car parking for Dinton Park is located on St Mary's Road immediately south of St Mary's Church. There is no visitor car parking at Philipps House itself. This park is one of Wiltshire’s best kept secrets and boasts substantial views - even Salisbury Cathedral can be seen from the highest point. Just like the night sky, the house is strikingly simple, deliberately conservative and grand, making it a fantastic backdrop for your night time photography.

Grid reference: SU009315
Facilities: Car park, nearby shop and pub.
Owner: The National Trust

3.       Fontmell and Melbury Downs
Spreadeagle Hill, Melbury Abbas, Dorset SP7 0DT

At 263m, the summit of Melbury Hill is one of the highest points in Dorset. An Armada beacon sited here in 1588 formed part of the chain of signal beacons stretching between London and Plymouth. What better place to witness the other navigational tools used by sea farers worldwide – the mystical constellations. This site offers superb panoramic views which, apart from Win Green, are unparalleled in the AONB.

Grid reference: ST886187
Facilities: Car park, nearby café at Compton Abbas Airfield.
Owner: The National Trust

4.       Martin Down Nature Reserve
This 336ha reserve is home to an exceptional collection of plants and animals associated with chalk downland and scrub habitats, including a number of rare or threatened species. It also offers an exceptional view of our night skies. Savour this ancient landscape where our prehistoric ancestors would have relied heavily on the night sky for navigation, planning their year and for their religion and associated rituals.

Grid reference: SU036200
Facilities: Car park
Owner: Natural England and Hampshire County Council

5.       Win Green
Donhead Hollow, Near Ludwell, Wiltshire SP7 0ES

One of the best known and most iconic sites in the Cranborne Chase AONB, Win Green is its highest point as well as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It contains chalk grassland, a habitat that has been seriously eroded in the UK and offers extensive views, with Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight, Salisbury, Glastonbury Tor, the Mendips, the Quantocks and Milk Hill all visible when clear.

Grid reference: ST923204
Facilities: Car park
Owner: The National Trust

6.       Knowlton
Knowlton, Wimborne, Dorset BH21 5AE

Many people report a strange sensation when standing at the centre of Church Henge, among the ruins of the medieval church. This is perhaps because it is at the heart of a major pagan ceremonial site, once taken over by Christian worship, but now returned to nature. Surrounding the site is the largest concentration of pre-historic barrows and henges found anywhere in the UK. Read up on the constellation myths created by our ancestors that tell of gods and monsters, heroes and villains and other legends using only the stars in the night sky and then witness the incredible theatrical display for yourself. The backdrop of the stunning church also makes for fantastic astrophotography.

Grid reference: SU023102
Facilities: Small car park
Owner: English Heritage

7.       Badbury Rings
B3082, near Wimborne, Dorset BH21 4DZ

Badbury Rings is an Iron Age hill fort in the territory of the Durotriges. In the Roman era, soldiers built a temple nearby which was used by the people of Vindocladia, a small local settlement. Back then there was little light pollution and our ancestors would have visited Badbury Rings and witnessed the full majestic view of our galaxy and beyond.

Grid reference: ST960030
Facilities: Car park
Owner: The National Trust

8.       Cley Hill
Corsley, Warminster, Wiltshire BA12 7QU

Although a bracing walk to the top of this ancient hillfort, once you’ve reached the summit you’ll be on top of one of the UK’s UFO hotspots. For almost 40 years this site has drawn UFO spotters who are keen to see if the talk of lights, flying objects and other unidentifiable oddities are true. Warminster has a designated National Reporting Centre for UFOs - so you won’t have to go far to record your sightings. The site offers 360 degree views of the surrounding hills and while the lights of Warminster may reduce the quality of the darkness, you may well enjoy an out of this world experience.

Grid reference: ST837442
Facilities: Car park
Owner: National Trust

9.       Sutton Veny playing fields
This small picturesque village not far from Warminster is home to the Starquest Astronomy Club, a successful group made up of novices and more experienced astronomers. They meet once a month for talks and training in all things astronomy and also set up their telescopes on Sutton Veny playing fields for observation sessions. If you’re looking to find out more about the AONB’s night skies and astronomy, this club is probably for you. For more information, email peter.lee@tytherington.net; tel: 01985 840093.

Grid reference: ST901417

10.   Ox Drove

Middle Down, north of Alvediston

Retrace the steps of our ancestors as they drove their cattle along this ancient track and take a journey of your own exploring the night sky. While you will not see the same brightness of starry night skies as they once boasted, you will still be one of the lucky 10% living in this country who are able to witness pristine skies.  Park in the lay-by next to the Ox Drove.

Grid reference: ST964250
Facilities: Car parking in lay-by