The Dark Sky Scotland partnership named the two sites as Newbattle Abbey College in Dalkeith and Highland Council’s Glen Nevis Visitor Center grounds, near Fort William. The two sites, which are relatively free of light pollution, tall buildings, and are safe and accessible, were chosen following a winter of community astronomy activities led by the John Muir Trust, the Highland Council Countryside Rangers, and the Forestry Commission Scotland.
“Many of us live in light polluted towns and cities yet in every community there is somewhere that is the best local place to go to look up and discover the stars,” said Dan Hiller from the Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Center. “From these places, which might be a park or playing field, you can see planets, hundreds of stars, space satellites, and other wonders of the night sky. The organizations that have identified these first two Dark Sky Discovery Sites have taken a world leading role in helping people to discover the universe that is on their doorsteps.”
The announcement of the sites took place March 25 at Newbattle Abbey College, Scotland’s only adult education residential college.
“Woodlands are a fantastic place to view the stars,” said Jeremy Thompson of Forestry Commission Scotland, which works closely with Newbattle Abbey College. “Not only do you get a still silence, but it adds a natural feel to the whole experience of stargazing.”
“There are wonderful opportunities in the Highlands to view and experience the fascination of planets and space,” said Iain Ross of The Highland Council’s Planning, Environment, and Development Committee. “Glen Nevis is an accessible location which offers a site free of light pollution and one where people can enjoy a range of community activities.”
“Many people visit Glen Nevis from developed areas with lots of light pollution and are often amazed to see shooting stars, the Milky Way, and entire constellations at night in Scotland’s wilder places,” said Alison Austin, Nevis conservation officer for the John Muir Trust. “It is great that Dark Skies Discovery Sites can highlight places like this and help people discover the night sky.”
“This might seem to be an odd thing for Scottish Natural Heritage, along with the Scottish government, to fund, but it isn’t,” said Catriona Morrison, communities and green spaces officer for SNH. This project will also help to raise awareness of the importance of places where people can appreciate the night sky.”
More Dark Sky Discovery Sites will be identified during 2009 by organizations involved in the Dark Sky Scotland program and similar Dark Sky programs in other parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland. A similar initiative is being set up in the United States.