Photograph by Su Bayfield
The skies above West Penwith are now officially recognised with the prestigious International Dark Sky Park Designation, awarded by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
Recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since 1959, West Penwith is only the seventh area of the UK and the second in Cornwall (after Bodmin Moor) to become an International Dark Sky Park (IDSP). The West Penwith IDSP covers the westerly section of Cornwall’s AONB; it stretches around the coastline from the outskirts of St Ives, through to St Just, Sennen and around Land’s End to Mousehole. Inland it takes in Trethewey, Sancreed and New Mill. The IDA’s IDSP Designation recognises this area as being naturally dark at night, with minimal traces of light pollution, making West Penwith one of the best places in the world to view the beauty of the night sky.
Cornwall Council supported a partnership among residents, businesses and councillors to achieve the accolade. A Steering Group comprised of local Councillors, Cornwall Council officers, PK Porthcurno, Land’s End Accommodation Providers, The National Trust, Cornwall AONB Unit, Mayes Creative, Penwith Landscape Partnership and other passionate locals led the efforts for this IDSP nomination.
“West Penwith never faltered in its pursuit to celebrate and protect its night skies,” stated Ashley Wilson, IDA’s Director of Conservation. “The Steering Group worked closely with IDA on the necessary components to craft a thorough and complete nomination. Through this experience, Cornwall Council encourages communities both inside and outside of its borders to look to the stars and do their part to protect this natural, cultural, and precious resource. We hope to see the success of these efforts continue to grow over time to protect night skies and the nocturnal environment across the landscape scale.”
A dark night sky has wide-ranging benefits. This designation means that the partnership will continue to work to:
- Preserve and enhance the dark night sky above West Penwith Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) for pleasure, leisure and to support the wellbeing of residents, visitors and wildlife
- Raise awareness of the importance of a dark night sky and encourage a reduction in light pollution
- Engage with individuals and groups, in the wider West Cornwall area, to grow an outreach and education programme for astronomy, nature, historic environment and human well-being
- Guide residents and visitors to the most appropriate locations and opportunities for appreciating the dark night sky
- Promote eco- and astro-tourism
- Inspire other designated landscape areas, within Cornwall and beyond, to appreciate and protect their dark skies, both formally and informally.
Mayor of St Just-in-Penwith, Sue James stated: “When I was Cornwall’s Cabinet Member for the Environment, I was asked to support two local Parish Councillors to achieve their goal to get the pristine skies above West Penwith recognised. We formed a Steering Group to gather and document the needed evidence, engage with local councils, residents and visitors and work with the IDA in Arizona, whilst also engaging with residents, local councils and visitors. We had to show not only that we had splendid dark skies (and we all knew that) but also that we valued them and could put in place measures to monitor and protect them.”
Cornwall Council cabinet member for Environment and Climate Change, Martyn Alvey said: “This is a tremendous community led achievement which officially recognises what we already knew, that West Penwith has a fabulous night sky which its residents are understandably proud of. It means that more people will get to know about it and come to enjoy and appreciate it.”
Kevin Hughes (former Parish Councillor) explained his reason for wanting this important designation:
“Under a pitch black starry sky in West Penwith, when sitting by some of the ancient monuments, we are looking at the very sky that 2000 years or more ago our ancestors were looking at. We must protect that sky for future generations to also be able to appreciate and wonder at.”
The following excerpt from Dark Sky Island by Enya (2015) first inspired Kevin to support this movement:
“Twilight comes to close the day
And let the night break free,
and from deep blue skies the heavens rise.”
Ian Marsh, Chair of the Tin Coast Partnership and National Trust General Manager for West Cornwall commented: “West Penwith has long been celebrated for its light, inspiring artists throughout the years; now it will also be celebrated for its dark, which will inspire conservation and a love for the natural world. This designation is significant in that it shows we have something precious that needs looking after into the future. Looking into the night sky from West Penwith can only be an inspiring reminder of how we all need that long-term view of what we value.”
Annie Henry-Holland, local B&B Proprietor said: “I am delighted to hear that the area in which live and work has achieved the International Dark Sky Park Designation. I have supported the steering committee from the beginning; hosting events, inviting people to learn about our night sky and encounter the magic of stargazing. Many guests come and stay at Tremorran because of Dark Skies and I help them by providing a night sky guide, a fire, and blankets, so that they can enjoy a comfortable experience. I look forward to welcoming guests in the future and learning more about the planets and constellations myself.”
The Steering Group thanks all those within and beyond their community that have supported and encouraged their journey. While some individuals were involved with this process as part of their paid day job, many more have given their time as volunteers.
About the IDA International Dark Sky Places Program The International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 as a non-regulatory and voluntary program to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through effective lighting policies, environmentally responsible outdoor lighting, and public education. When used indiscriminately, artificial light can disrupt ecosystems, impact human health, waste money and energy, contribute to climate change, and block our view and connection to the universe. West Penwith now joins more than 185 Places that have demonstrated robust community support for dark sky advocacy and strive to protect the night from light pollution. Learn more by visiting www.darksky.org/conservation/idsp.
Story posted 09 December 2021