South Scotland

Dark Sky studies stepped up in Galloway Forest Park

Night sky Image copyright James Hilder

There cannot be many fields of study where you would be happy if your tutors left you in the dark.

But that is something which will be positively encouraged in a new scholarship available in the south of Scotland.

The bright idea owes its origins to the Galloway Forest's designation as the UK's first Dark Sky Park in 2009.

Now a doctoral project - led by the University of Glasgow's Prof Hayden Lorimer and Dr David Borthwick - is to shine new light on the night sky.

Image copyright James Hilder

It involves both academic research and work with organisations outside the university.

The student will work with the Forestry Commission and have input from Forest Research.

"The project begins with the night sky and the importance of preserving dark skies for present and future generations," explained Dr Borthwick.

"The Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park is an important resource for Dumfries and Galloway - being one of the few locations to achieve this designation in the western world.

"Dark skies are endangered owing to light pollution and urbanisation."

Galloway Forest

Dark Sky Park in numbers

23.6

maximum Sky Quality Meter reading (scale from 0 to 25)

  • 7,000 stars visible with the naked eye

  • 75,000 hectares of land

  • 31 International Dark Sky Parks - eight outside the United States

James Hilder
Image copyright James Hilder

The PhD project will investigate why dark skies are important and why their popularity appears to be on the rise.

Another example of this in the south of Scotland came with Moffat's recent designation as a Dark Sky Community.

Dr Borthwick said the Dark Sky Park was an important draw for "dark sky lovers and dark sky tourists" and one of the few places in the world where enthusiasts could gather in a designated park.

"The research project wants to find out how this influences local identity and local land use," he said.

"We want to find out how local communities identify with and celebrate the dark sky."

He cited the music event Sanctuary at Murray's Monument, created by local artists Robbie Coleman and Jo Hodges, as one example of such work.

Image copyright James Hilder

Dr Borthwick said the region had the capacity to develop and grow the "unique resource" and the student would work with the Forestry Commission to sustain its future.

"More than this, though, the knowledge gained from Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park can be used to teach other groups and places internationally about the importance of being able to see a dark sky, to celebrate that, and use it to inform distinct local identity and tourism," he said.

"Through talking with locals, Dark Sky Rangers, astronomers and lovers of stars our student will spend a great deal of time in project fieldwork in the region, which will trade in words and walks, stories and secrets, maps and memories, skyforms and landforms.

"It is a unique opportunity to study the return of the dark as something vital, and to take lessons from the universe - as seen from Dumfries and Galloway skies - outwards to the wider world."

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