Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, which covers over 5,000 square miles, is to be the location for the first ever Dark Sky Park conference to be held in Europe.

The event, being held 20th to 22 Sept 2017, will bring together some of the world’s top dark sky experts with the aim of promoting rural development, tourism and tackling light pollution issues.

Astronomers, town planners, lighting specialists, environmentalist and academics will attend the international conference to discuss the benefits that Dark Sky status can bring.

The conference is to be held at the Cally Palace Hotel in Gatehouse of Fleet. The event is timed to run just before the Wigtown Book Festival and other activities are planned to encourage delegates to stay for longer in the region.

The conference is being organised by Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, the International Dark Sky Association and Forest Enterprise Scotland, which manages the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park.

Keith Muir, Forest Enterprise Scotland’s Visitor Services Manager for the area said: “Galloway Forest Park was the first area in Europe to achieve Dark Sky Park status and we are keen to share our experience and learn from others by being the first in Europe to host such a major conference. This is really good news for putting the south west of Scotland on the map as an international stargazing destination.

“All the partners involved will be working together to ensure the conference is a success and showcases Galloway as a great place to live, work and play. We’re very excited about this major event and the potential spin offs it should create for the local economy.”

The conference detail is being brought together over the coming months and will ensure that delegates have an opportunity to promote the Dark Sky Places Programme. Another aim of the conference is to educate and inform about the issues that light pollution is causing on a global scale.

Forming the heart of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere,  the Galloway Forest Park is equal in size to about 75,000 football pitches and was designated Dark Sky Status back in November 2009.

The park is a commercial working forest which is also home to amazing wildlife, stunning wilderness and hosts fantastic walking and biking trails. Estimates indicate that nearly  one million  people visit Galloway Forest Park each year.

There are few people who actually live within the park’s boundary which helps cut down light pollution. The very low level of light pollution demonstrated by the 23.6 readings on the sky quality meter – which can only read up to 25 – helped the area achieve Gold Tier status as a Dark Sky Park.

The Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park has also had strong support from the local Council through lighting measures, which in turn is helping to attract more people interested in astrophotography and astro-tourism.

Joan Mitchell, Chair of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere said: “The Dark Sky Park is an integral part of the Biosphere, between them they  offer a 24/7 attraction in south west Scotland, offering the opportunity to celebrate and explore the regions landscapes and wildlife during the day and the dark skies at night.

“Hosting Europe’s first ever Dark Sky Park conference is fantastic opportunity to help put this often over looked corner of Scotland on the map.”

John Barentine Program Director for the International Dark Sky Association based in Arizona added: “It is a testament to the momentum behind the global effort to recognize and protect dark skies worldwide that this international conference is to be held. Further, it is especially fitting that the event will be held near Galloway Forest, where it can be said the movement scored its first major victory for dark skies preservation in Europe. The International Dark-Sky Association is proud to have a seat at the table for this important gathering.”

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Pictures: Jesse Beaman, Stargazing Scotland