Dark Sky Parks and Dark Sky Reserves – A Comparison

[This is a crosspost from www.cademuir.eu ]

Over the past while I’ve noticed that some confusion has arisen about the distinctions between Dark Sky Parks and Dark Sky Reserves. In preparation for an upcoming meeting I drew up the following 2 pager explaining the key differences. For the impatient, here’s the 2 line difference from Steve Owens:

  • Parks are public land more or less empty of human habitation, and can be of any size.
  • Reserves are large areas centered round a significant dark sky area (the core), with a buffer zone that includes communities stretching a min of 15km on all sides of the core.

Dark Sky Parks and Dark Sky Reserves – A Comparison

Introduction

The International Dark Sky Association runs an Dark Sky Places program to recognise places that have taken efforts to protect their night time heritage. There are three types of Dark Sky Places.

Dark Sky Parks and Dark Sky Reserves are what will be discussed in this document. The third category is a Dark Sky Community.

Dark Sky Communities must be legally organised entities. In Ireland this would be at the Local Council level. Although many towns and villages have local councils they do not have legal powers to enact lighting regulations and so would not qualify under this scheme. I will not discuss Dark Sky Communities in this document as I don’t think they are appropriate for Ireland.

What are Parks and Reserves?

Parks are public land more or less empty of human habitation, and can be of any size.

Reserves are large areas centered round a significant dark sky area (the core), with a buffer zone that includes communities stretching a min of 15km on all sides of the core.

Objectives

The objectives for Parks and Reserves are similar. The area must possess and exceptional or distinguished quality of dark skies. The areas must be specifically protected for their scientific, natural, educational or cultural heritage. The bodies owning and/or governing the areas must recognise the value of the starry night through regulations and formal agreements and long term planning. For example this would involve the local authority/council officially supporting the project in their planning rules, lighting practices, etc. The formal agreements, and implementations are a key requirement in achieving official status.

Benefits

The benefits of parks and reserves are very broad in scope. Protected night time environments will benefit nocturnal animals (including amateur astronomers!). Having an official designation which can be used for tourist purposes will aid in the promotion of the area.

In Ireland the likely areas for a park are reserve are areas which already are popular tourist destinations. These areas typically have peak tourists in the summer but few visitors in the winter. By becoming a Dark Sky Park or reserve the communities and businesses will have an advantage in attracting visitors during these lean periods. In areas that already hold certification some hotels now offer ‘Astronomy weekends’ where guests are given introductory talks on astronomy and weather permitting an observing session; holding more traditional ‘star-parties’ in the area can also benefit local businesses. There are also non-astronomical related benefits, such as ‘bat tours’ and nighttime hillwalking that having a Dark Sky Accreditation can help to support.

Eligibility Criteria

This is where Parks and Reserves diverge. Each of the following must be met.

Park Reserve
1 All protected public lands are eligible. The core must be pubic or private land protected for scientific,natural, cultural, or heritage reasons.
2 Parks must provide pubic nighttime access. A portion of land with access available for a portion of the night may be sufficient. The core is encouraged to provide the opportunity for public nighttime access.
3 The park must have an outstanding dark sky resource relative to the population it serves. The core must have an outstanding dark sky resource relative to the population it serves.
4 Park night sky must meet a minimum quality. Milky Way must be visible (limiting mag 5.0 / Bortle 6) Core must have identified sources of light pollution and clearly identify current and future threats to the sky quality and define areas of protection accordingly.
5 If the park is over 500km² a portion of the park may be designated as a dark sky park. The peripheral area must be a minimum of 700km²

Minimum Requirements

Park Reserve
1 Lighting regulation/management plan must be adopted with the following minimum standards:- fully shielded lights throughout the park if over 1000lm

– define methods for determine whether areas should or should not be lit.

– define methods to access what type of lamp should be used for particular tasks in particular areas minimising image to wildlife, stargazing activities etc.

– guidelines should conform to or surpass any existing agency / departmental / government policy.

This requires having a lighting inventory performed by a lighting professional to quantify the work required above.

Lighting regulation/management plan must be adopted with the following minimum standards for 80% of the population and 80% of the designated area within the entire reserve :- fully shielded light if over 1000lm

– define methods for determine whether areas should or should not be lit. More restrictive in the core.

– define methods to access what type of lamp should be used for particular tasks in particular areas minimising image to wildlife, stargazing activities etc.

This requires having a lighting inventory performed by a lighting professional to quantify the work required above.

2 Commitment to dark sky management as shown by:- park recognises dark skies importance by inclusion in approved management documents

-67% of outdoor lighting fixtures conform to the guidelines

– 100% of lighting on park land conforming or committing to conform.

– Importance of dark sky part of interpretative programs

– park has set a leadership example though an exceptional dark sky project. e.g. A night sky friendly lighting project, dark sky restoration project, night sqy monitoring with public education.

Commitment to dark sky management as shown by:- part of the core’s interpretative program.

– 67% of lighting within the core conforms to the regulations.

– 95% must conform or commit to conform within 5 years.

– communities must have examples of conforming lighting installations relative to population.

– each municipality should have at least one highly visible demonstration project.

– ~10% lights retrofitted

– ~15% reduction in light pollution achieved as a result of the above.

– communities must have a program to encourage all new lighting to conform to the regulations.

A measurement program must be maintained to monitor the core.
Acknowledgement by higher than community level (e.g. Council, local authority) that dark skies are important and including this in documents and long term planning.
Core must erect and maintain sinage indicating Dark Sky Reserve status. Core must erect and maintain sinage indicating Dark Sky Reserve status.

Submission Process

The following are required to be presented with the submission in both cases:

1 Map of area clearly indicating the park/reserve and surrounding communities
2 Letter of support from park or core administrator
3 Management documents supporting dark skies and/or natural lightscapes as a valued resource
4 Agency, departmental, municipality, community policies on outdoor lighting and dark sky protection.
5 Documentation on sky quality demonstrating the noteworthiness of the resource.
6 Documentation signed by park/core administrator showing lighting inventory of the park and the plan to bring lighting to conformance.
7 Brief description of interpretive programs related to dark skies / natural lightscapes
8 Documentation or description of the preservation or restoration project
9 Proposed official working of the park or reserve
10 For a Park – the Park lighting Guidelines
11 For a reserve – Documentation showing the historical, natural, or cultural importance of the core area.

Conclusion

Individual Parks managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service may apply for Park status. Dark Sky Reserves are more suited to the larger area projects that would be appropriate in Ireland which may encompass part of a NPWS protected area.

Albert White MSc. FRAS, International Dark Sky Association – Irish Section

Further Reading:

Dark Sky Park official documentation http://www.darksky.org/assets/documents/dsp-international-dark-sky-park.pdf

Dark Sky Reserve Official documentation http://www.darksky.org/assets/documents/IDSR.pdf

Galloway Forest Park application http://docs.darksky.org/DarkSkyPlaces/IDSPGalloway.pdf

Exmoor Application (the Exmoor application give a very good model for a potential Irish application) –

http://docs.darksky.org/IDSPlaces/Exmoor_IDSR_application.pdf

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