Roger Poole shows off his telescope, but in the evening the clouds cleared, the telescopes were moved outside and visitors were treated to the wonders of what a truly dark sky can offer. Image Credit: Elizabeth Pearson
Elan Valley in mid-Wales has become the UK's latest Dark Sky Park.
Recognised by the International Dark Sky Association after 200 light readings were taken over two years, the estate was granted Silver-tier dark sky status.
The 45,000 acres are now the first privately owned, yet publicly accessible park to receive the designation anywhere in the world.
“It’s been a work of partnership between the Elan Valley Trust and the ranger team but a lot of the work has been done by the Elan Valley Astronomy group who have volunteered and taken a lot of the light readings,” says Meirel Whaites, head ranger of the estate.
On 29 October 2015 the park had its official opening ceremony with an astronomy day at the Elan Valley Visitor Centre, featuring talks, a planetarium show and activities for the younger visitors.
Though clouds stopped any hope of solar astronomy, these cleared in the evening, allowing visitors who stayed after dark to get a glimpse of what a truly dark sky looks like.
“As we move forward we will be planning more events in the 2016 programme and hopefully building on the success of the dark sky status,” says Whaites.
The application was started by former head ranger Sorcha Lewis, and brought to fruition by Elan Valley Astronomy members Les and Kris Fry.
Fortunately for this small team of volunteers the process to acquire the status went without trouble.
“A small area like this, we could do it all in house,” says Les.
“Most of the locals recognise that it can bring more people into the area.
And by getting dark sky status as well as protecting wildlife and the environment, we've now created a base in mid-Wales for astronomers and their families to come on holiday.”
Elan Valley follows on from the Brecon Beacons, which received Dark Sky status in 2013.
With Snowdonia National Park also applying for the accolade, Wales could soon become a haven for astronomers seeking dark skies.
“Wales has this huge central area where there are no lights.
Astronomy is something that could be developed here.
The number of people who have been coming through the doors today show that,” says Les.