Dark Skies Matter

Northumberland National Park is proud to announce the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Northumberland’s International Dark Skies Park with a captivating new exhibition and supporting programme titled “Dark Skies Matter”. This exciting celebration will take place at The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre from December 9th 2023 until March 2024.

The heart of the festivities revolves around ‘Noctalgia: Dark Skies Matter,’ a groundbreaking exhibition and programme that will captivate audiences. Commissioned by Northumberland National Park Authority and generously supported by the Sir James Knott Trust, this innovative exhibition is being created by visual artist Bethan Maddocks, in collaboration with community groups and visitors through creative activities and workshops.

Noctalgia is a new term invented by astronomers to describe the pain associated with losing access to the night sky due to light pollution: “noctalgia,” meaning “sky grief.” Bethan is working with a variety of people from school children and visitors to The Sill, as well as groups such as North East Sight Matters, Deaf Association NE, parent and toddler groups, and experts from Northumberland National Park who have shared their knowledge of the ecology, management, history, and archaeology of the Park. As part of her research process, she will also visit the Planetarium in Twice Brewed for a ‘Dark Skies experience’ and the Observatory at Kielder, to explore the skies and equipment used to peer into our dark skies.

At the core of the “Dark Skies Matter” exhibition will be a series of sculptures that play with light and cast mesmerising shadows around the exhibition space. Featuring delicately cut imagery of shooting stars, the Milky way, hunting owls, night pollinating plants and insects, the sculpture is a tribute to the visible stars, creatures, and plants that thrive under Northumberland’s pristine dark skies. As visitors step into the darkened gallery, the sculptures will cast intricate shadows of these paper-cut creations onto the walls and sculpted projection screens, creating an immersive and emotional artwork that is nothing short of theatrical.

Visual Artist Bethan Maddocks said, “Dark Skies Matter will delve deep into star systems and the unique ecology of Northumberland National Park, shedding light on the wildlife, plants and flowers that rely on darkness for hunting, foraging and pollination. It is a delight to share my creative process with people from the local community and National Park specialists, sharing tales and amplifying local voices to emphasise the critical role of dark skies for people, nature, and the environment.”

The Dark Skies Matter exhibition and programme does not stop at The Sill and will extend into a series of exciting events and activities for people of all ages and abilities, including ‘Dark Skies and Creatures of the Night’, an event at Walltown where participants can explore nocturnal wildlife on a nighttime walking safari with Wild Intrigue, as well as a nighttime navigation course and arts-based activities.

Sycamore Gap in the snow at night

Pristine dark skies

In 2013, in recognition of its pristine dark skies and the unwavering commitment of the National Park Authority and its partners to preserve them, Northumberland National Park along with most of Kielder Water & Forest Park earned the prestigious ‘International Dark Sky Park (Gold Tier)’ status from Dark Sky International. Over the past decade, over ten million visitors have experienced England’s most unspoiled dark skies. Building on the pioneering spirit of the world-renowned Kielder Observatory, other observatories have sprung up across the Dark Sky Park, offering unparalleled celestial experiences to all.

Tony Gates, Chief Executive Officer at Northumberland National Park Authority said, “As we mark the 10 anniversary of this distinguished designation, we are excited to welcome everyone to experience Northumberland International Dark Skies Park through a creative and engaging exhibition and programme which has dark skies conservation at its heart. We have created a celebration which is testament to the dedication of our community, partners and visitors in conserving and enhancing the natural wonder of our dark skies, exploring their importance for nature, climate, health and wellbeing. Dark Skies Matter promises to be an enchanting journey that will inspire, educate, and rekindle our appreciation of the majestic night skies above.

“There is a serious message behind our celebrations, 10 years on our dark skies remain under threat from light pollution. Our dark skies are part of our common heritage, we are rightly proud of Northumberland International Dark Skies Park, but we must work continually to protect them so that future generations can experience them and the delicate ecosystems which rely on them.” 

The 10th anniversary celebrations will not only feature the captivating Dark Skies Matter exhibition and programme but also a Dark Skies themed learning programme for schools supported by the John Horseman Trust and a social media campaign centred around dark skies conservation and steps that everyone can take to ensure Northumberland’s dark skies continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.