From the garden of her North Ronaldsay home, Kathleen Scott could lift her gaze skywards and on evenings when the merry dancers were at rest and the clouds parted, see the same stars that once fascinated the island’s earliest civilisations.

Twinkling against their black velvet curtain were millions of tiny specks, some burning brighter than others, many clustered together to form milky streaks in the night sky, the bright beam of planets, sometimes meteor shows and perhaps even comets. With little light pollution to dilute the darkness, the night sky over her Orkney Islands’ home dazzled – perhaps the inspiration for the early islanders to create their mysterious stone monuments 5,000 years ago.

These beautiful, mesmerising skies, she felt, needed to be shared.

For almost a decade she battled to convince authorities that her island birthplace deserved to become one of the few places in the world to achieve special recognition for its dark skies and cosmic wonders.

While to raise awareness, she organised a range of astronomy activities, night sky photography events, and conferences, even engaging support from the former Astronomer Royal for Scotland, the late Prof. John C. Brown.

When doctors warned her that cancer meant she had just months to live and still hopeful that her wish would one day come true, Kathleen arranged for the purchase of a telescope for the community, perhaps to be used when North Ronaldsay’s skies had achieved their special status.

Kathleen died in 2017 but, it has now transpired, her efforts were not in vain.

Having promised Kathleen to ‘leave it with me’, retired lighting engineer Jim Paterson and a determined group of local supporters continued her campaign.

It has now been finally confirmed that North Ronaldsay has, indeed, joined the select group of just 30 locations worldwide to be designated as an International Dark Sky Community.

The tiny island takes its place alongside the likes of Flagstaff in Arizona, which attracts tourists from around the globe to regular ‘star parties’, and Desengano State Park, Brazil, where, with no light pollution and clear skies, stargazers climb to the top of Pedra do Desengano to ‘touch the stars’.

Much closer to home, the island joins the Isle of Coll, Galloway Forest and the town of Moffat, all also designated by the International Dark Sky Association as dark sky hotspots.

News that North Ronaldsay had finally achieved Kathleen’s dream of dark skies status was bitter-sweet, admits Jim.

Aged 80, he describes himself as ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ after a working life as a lighting engineer and now in retirement helping communities tackle light pollution to bring their night skies back to life.

North Ronaldsay is the 13th community he has helped attain dark sky status since his first success with Galloway Forest Park in 2009. More recently, he has been working on a dark sky application to go forward from the island of St Helena.

“Kathleen was the driving force, she was dynamic,” he says. “This was her great ambition and it’s a real pity that she died before she saw it happen.

“She told me that her life was limited. She had cancer. I said, ‘Just leave it with me’.”

Jim, who learned of the constellations by his father’s side when he was boy, has become the country’s accidental dark skies hero.

“I’m a lighting engineer not an astronomer,” he points out. “I worked for 40 years in the Midlands where stargazing was not in the equation because of the amount of light pollution.

“I was moving to back to Scotland and told my business partner that if there was no work that’s it, I’ll retire.”

Instead, the Forestry Commission – now Forestry and Land Scotland - needed an experienced lighting engineer to help with their application to the American-based International Dark-Sky Association for Galloway Forest to be designated as one of the early dark sky destinations.

Since then, Jim’s expertise has helped pave the way for dark skies accreditation for Sark in the Channel Islands, Exmoor National Park, the Brecon Beacon, Snowdonia, the Yorkshire Dales, and Northumberland National Park.

At Galloway Forest, his home town of Moffat and more recently in North Ronaldsay, his technical inspections assessed light pollution and determined how best to adapt existing lighting to allowing the stars in the dark skies to shine through.

As well as dampening the beams of unnatural light that outshine the stars, he says subtle shifts in street lighting and switching from sodium to LED lights can open up the night skies as well as bring significant energy savings.

“Part of all of this is about trying to cut down the obstructive light from going up to the night sky and getting places to have better control of light, so it’s pointing downwards instead of wasting light going up to the sky,” he adds.

“That is wasted energy.”

His audit for the South Ronaldsay bid involved carrying out an audit of all the Orkney Islands’ light pollution to ensure it fell within the association’s strict requirements.

But while the original idea behind the dark skies movement was to highlight the problems of light pollution, there have additional benefits.

Dark sky tourism has flourished: hotels in the area around Galloway Forest are said to have enjoyed winter demand from stargazing tourists, and there has been soaring interest in the town of Moffat for astronomy.

That has led to the establishment in the town of a simple observatory equipped with 16ins telescope which opens up an intergalactic world which can’t be seen by the naked eye.

Some who visit the Moffat telescope find it an almost spiritual experience, adds Jim.

“It is excellent for deep sky objects like nebula, things that can’t be seen by naked eye.

“Blobs on the sky turn to thousands of stars, almost galaxies in themselves; a single star in the sky is exploded by telescope to show several stars - a star goes from a single blob in the sky, into several stars.

“When you look at it, you realise that one star in the sky is really 20 or 30 different stars and you realise how small you really are and how far away they are.

“You can’t help but think there must be life out there somewhere.”

Confirming North Ronaldsay’s status, the International Dark-Sky Association’s Executive Director, Ruskin Hartley, said: “We are proud to recognise and celebrate the efforts of this community that spent a decade raising awareness and encouraging residents to embrace their connection with the night sky.

“By making this commitment, North Ronaldsay will embellish their economy, preserve important seabird habitat, and ensure the stars and cosmic wonders are shared by all who visit the Dark Sky Island.”

There are now hopes that dark skies status for North Ronaldsay will create a new tourism sector among visitors keen to see the Aurora Borealis and to contemplate the stars’ connections with ancient stones and circles believed to have been arranged to track astronomical events 5,000 years ago.

“Kathleen bought a telescope before she died,” adds Jim. “She wanted people to see the stars – that is her legacy.”