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National Parks’ plan to include a virtual element in future Dark Skies Festivals after lockdown event proves big hit

Milky Way above Warren Moor in the North York Moors National ParkMilky Way above Warren Moor in the North York Moors National Park

15 March 2021

National Parks’ plan to include a virtual element in future Dark Skies Festivals after lockdown event proves big hit

Lockdown may have put paid to the usual format of the popular annual Dark Skies Festival in February but going virtual with many of the events proved to be such a huge hit with people that online sessions will feature in future festivals.

Figures collated by both the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks show more than 178,000 people worldwide tuned into the virtual programme, which was put together in association with Go Stargazing as an alternative for visitors who were unable to travel to the Dark Skies Festival because of the lockdown restrictions.

Ribblehead Viaduct Yorkshire Dales night sky3 c Andy Ward

The two week virtual festival comprised over 40 events organised on platforms like Facebook, Zoom and YouTube together with wildlife webcams on artist Robert Fuller’s website and activity packs and aliens sent out to families.

Viewers from as far afield as Brazil, Sweden and Trinidad and Tobago watched as astronomers, researchers, wildlife experts, astro photographers, artists and National Park staff shared their passion for stargazing, space and nocturnal life.

Astronomer Richard Darn’s talk: ‘Beginners’ Guide to the Night Sky’ proved to be one of the most popular events attracting an audience of over 25,000 on Facebook Live and Zoom.

Similarly the live streaming of NASA’s Perseverance Rover landing on Mars and a talk on the historic event by Dr Fred Stephenson attracted a whopping 46,000 audience on Facebook Live and Zoom.

In addition virtual Dark Skies Festival content posted on social media platforms by both National Parks and Go Stargazing reached over four million people.

Meteor above Helmsley Dark Skies Festival by Steve BellBoth National Parks are now planning to include an online programme alongside physical events both for the Fringe Festival this October and the main February 2022 Festival, particularly after feedback showed that 95% of people* would be keen to see a repeat of the virtual format.

Helen Dalton, Tourism Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park commented: “The popularity of each online session was incredible and showed just how much dark skies and space continue to pique the curiosity of people right across the UK.

“While there is no substitute for actually experiencing a truly dark sky in beautiful National Park surroundings, we have discovered a new avenue with the virtual events that can inspire and engage even more youngsters and adults. Feedback also showed that 95% of people* were inspired to visit the National Parks in the future, which is fantastic to hear.”

Emily Watson, Visitor Development and Marketing Assistant for the North York Moors National Park added: “We know many people were disappointed they couldn’t visit this February particularly as both National Parks were celebrating their newly-designated International Dark Sky Reserve status.

“This is why we’ve confirmed the dates for this October’s Fringe Festival so that visitors can still plan a visit, particularly if they want to book dark skies friendly accommodation, which, in both National Parks, is likely to be snapped up quickly this year.”

More programme details for the Dark Skies Fringe Festival, which takes place 22-31 October, will be available nearer the time on


Notes to editors:

*Of the 459 people who responded to the event feedback survey, 95% said they would like to see a repeat of the virtual format. The same number also said they were inspired to visit the National Parks after watching one or more of the virtual Dark Skies Festival events.

The Dark Skies Festival runs across four protected landscapes - the North York Moors National Park, Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

North York Moors National Park

The National Park is a beautiful landscape of stunning moorland, spectacular coast, ancient woodland, dark skies and historic sites. It was created on 28 November 1952 and became Britain’s sixth national park. The North York Moors National Park Authority works with a wide variety of people to care for this beautiful corner of Yorkshire. Nearly 14% of its staff are apprentices from local families. For more information go to

Yorkshire Dales National Park

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is home to stunning scenery, wonderful wildlife and a rich heritage. As well as being ideal for those who want to enjoy the outdoors, the National Park offers a wealth of attractions for visitors – from great food and places to eat, castles, abbeys and quirky museums, and opportunities to learn new skills. It is one of 15 National Parks in the UK and is administered by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

Nidderdale AONB

Nidderdale AONB covers 603 sq km (233 sq miles) from Great Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales through to the edge of the Vale of York in the East. The fascinating geology of the area which has created a gorge and eye-catching rock formations, together with the tranquil expanses of water, open heather moorland, rolling pastures and scenic villages are among the special qualities of the AONB.

Howardian Hills AONB

Howardian Hills AONB covers 204 sq km (79 sq miles) of North Yorkshire countryside, nestled between the North York Moors National Park, the Yorkshire Wolds and the Vale of York. It is a captivating landscape with its well-wooded rolling countryside, patchwork of arable and pasture fields, tranquil villages and historic country houses with classic parkland landscapes.

Go Stargazing        

Go Stargazing encourages public interest in astronomy by helping people find stargazing events and destinations across the UK, this via the website and social media channels.

For further information and images please contact Amanda Brown at A2BPR on:

T: 01423 740048

M: 07876 452580


Or Nina Beadle, Communications Officer, North York Moors National Park Authority:

T: 01439 772700


Or Andrew Fagg, Media Officer, at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

T: 01969 652374