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Dark sky park will be the largest in Europe

STARGAZERS could soon be flocking to one of the UK's more remote corners which is to receive recognition for the quality of its night sky.

Some 580 square miles of Northumberland countryside near the Scottish border is to be given protected dark sky park status, becoming the largest in Europe. The US-based International Dark Skies Association (IDA) has granted Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status to the combined areas of Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water and Forest Park, between Hadrian's Wall and the Border.

The new zone,which will be called the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park will be one of the largest in the world. Gold tier designation is the highest status the IDA can bestow. It means the spread of light pollution will be halted, as people will be encouraged to fit more sophisticated outdoor lighting to homes.

Galloway Forest Park became the country's first Dark Sky Park in 2009 and it has been credited with boosting tourism numbers and hotel occupancy. Seventy-seven per cent of guest houses and bed and breakfasts nearby reported an increase in bed nights after the park gained the status.

TV impressionist Jon Culshaw, an amateur astronomer, said: "It's a sad thought that such genuinely dark sky sites are becoming increasingly rare.

"We must value them, preserve them and ensure they can be enjoyed by as many visitors as possible, who may take in the majesty of a spectacularly non-light polluted night sky."

Councillor John Riddle, chairman of Northumberland National Park Authority, said: "This move will reclaim the night and protect this rich legacy for future generations."

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