Light threat to Dark Sky Park

turbineThe Astronomer Royal for Scotland, the John Muir Trust and the Scottish Wild Land Group have sent an open letter to the Scottish Government asking it to update Scottish Planning Policy to prevent the construction of wind farms in Europe's only Gold Tier Dark Sky Park.

Located around the Galloway Forest Park in south-west Scotland, the Park has provided a major boost to Scotland’s profile and educational and tourist resources. Following years of hard work by local communities, it now boasts the only publicly accessible, research-grade observatory within a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park in the world. This inspirational project has captured the imaginations of children and adults across the country, including that of the First Minister himself when he opened the observatory last year.

However, the continuing proliferation of wind farms in the area now threatens the very dark skies that made the Park possible.  Ministry of Defence and Aviation Authority safety requirements mean that wind turbines must be illuminated by infra-red light and, in some areas used regularly for training or search and rescue, visible light illumination may be required.  Turbines near the Dark Sky Park could fall into the latter category, and would have a catastrophic effect on the ability of astronomers to use sensitive equipment in the Park and on the current visibility of stars, galaxies, comets and northern lights.

Professor John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland said “There is a place for wind farms in our national energy mix but they should not be sited in the Dark Sky Park. We should be seeking to protect the wonderful dark skies of the Galloway Forest above the world-leading Scottish Dark Sky  Observatory. Installing any large structures that require illumination (whether visible or IR) would be akin to putting a factory in Glen Coe or electricity pylons along the Cuillin Ridge.

“Our First Minister was instrumental in helping to secure funding for the observatory and he opened it with much passion and aplomb in October last, praising Scotland for leading the world with this fine public and educational facility. But Mr Salmond is also an ardent advocate of wind farms and so faces a dilemma.

“I, for one, would call upon him now to prove his sincere interest in our wild lands and skies by ensuring wind farms and other dark sky contaminants are excluded from the entire Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park. This would lay down a benchmark for future decisions on all similar wild land sites where wind farms are wholly inappropriate.”

John Milne, Coordinator of the Scottish Wild Land Group, said: “Scotland’s wild land areas and the dark skies above them are environmental, social, economic, educational and original research resources of national importance. Safeguards are urgently needed to protect these resources from the continuing opportunistic construction of industrial wind farms. Scotland’s only Dark Sky Park is particularly significant, and we are appalled that it is threatened by these proposals. Illumination on the scale required by proposed wind farms could effectively destroy the Dark Sky Park and we call on the Government to ensure that these developments do not go ahead”.

Stuart Brooks, Chief Executive of the John Muir Trust, said: “I recently visited the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park and was moved by its timeless beauty. The pristine night sky, untainted by as much as a glimmer of artificial light, is a magnificent sight. It would be a tragedy if this elemental sense of wildness were to be diminished by the introduction of industrial structures with their associated light pollution. This is a huge threat to an area that should be respected as a national treasure.”

While infra-red lighting is usually adequate to satisfy MoD requirements, its effects alone are serious and the JMT and SWLG have seen MoD correspondence suggesting that  infra-red and visible lighting may both  be necessary within the park.

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