Leading astronomer opens the North York Moors National Park’s newest dark skies and nature facility
A leading astronomer has opened a new visitor facility that will further underline the North York Moors National Park’s International Dark Sky Reserve status and its position as one of the most prominent stargazing locations in the UK.
Astrophysicist Professor Carole Haswell, who is Head of Astronomy at the Open University, helped unveil the new Star and Nature Hub at Sutton Bank National Park Centre in front of guests who were then treated to a guided tour of the solar system in the company of astronomer Richard Darn.
The wooden-clad hub, located in a clearing just metres from the main car park and National Park Centre, will serve a dual purpose – as a prime spot for studying the spectacular night skies above Sutton Bank and a focal point for visitors during the day to find out more about the natural world in the local surroundings.
The hub has been constructed to provide a welcoming internal space which is accessible to all and filled with information and interpretation panels describing the seasonal changes to the natural surroundings. The new facility is also capable of holding events for up to 30 people.
Outside the hub, a bird sound station will help visitors identify the different songs and choruses that resound in the sky while a rotating dark skies panel will show how the astronomic sightings change throughout the year.
To protect the pristine night sky, the building’s exterior lighting comprises special red downlights to cut out any glare that would otherwise blight the visitors’ ability to view the celestial show above them.
The red lighting continues on the underside of the bench seating surrounding a circle adjacent to the hub where astronomers can set up their telescopes during organised dark sky events while visitors can sit and lean back slightly on the small bank behind to look comfortably skywards.
The new facility will come into its own this autumn half-term as one of the venues for the Dark Skies Fringe Festival (22-31 October) which the North York Moors National Park is holding again, together with the Yorkshire Dales National Park, after the success of last year’s first fringe event.
Professor Haswell, who says she first became inspired by space after seeing the dark skies above her hometown of Saltburn, commented: “Facilities like the hub are fantastic as they provide a comfortable environment for visitors so they can really concentrate on absorbing their surroundings and make the most of enjoying the wonders of the universe above them.”
Chris Pye, Sutton Bank National Park Centre Manager added: “Sutton Bank has always been a popular destination attracting around 130,000 visitors a year, but it has now also become one of our foremost locations for dark sky activities thanks to the escarpment’s wide open horizon onto unpolluted skies.
“This, coupled with people’s keenness to understand more about the wildlife they’re noticing as they visit Sutton Bank, meant that it made sense to invest in a facility specifically built with nature and dark skies in mind.
“The hub is about celebrating and providing a real sense of the importance of the natural wonders around us as well as demystifying the cosmic sightings in the sky.”
The hub will complement existing stargazing facilities across the North York Moors National Park, which include observatories at Dalby Forest and Whitby as well as the many Dark Skies Friendly businesses – from walking guides to bed and breakfasts - that provide visitors with the equipment and on-hand expertise to make the most of the stars above.
In December 2020, the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales National Parks both became International Dark Skies Reserves, representing one of the largest areas in Europe to be simultaneously designated.
For more information on the hub go to www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/suttonbank
Amanda Brown on M:
Communications Officer, North York Moors National Park Authority
The North York Moors National Park
The new star and nature hub is part of the Sutton Bank National Park Centre: the Gateway to the North York Moors project, funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas.
The North York Moors is a beautiful landscape of stunning moorland, ancient woodland and historic sites. Created on 28 November 1952 it became Britain’s sixth national park. Covering an area of 554 square miles (1,436 square kilometres) the National Park has 26 miles of coastline, two national nature reserves, 840 Scheduled Monuments and over 3,000 listed buildings, attracting an estimated 8.4 million visitors a year.
The National Park has two visitor centres, The Moors National Park Centre, Danby and Sutton Bank National Park Centre, providing opportunities for cycling, walking, eating, picnicking, shopping, crafts and wildlife-watching. The centre in Danby also houses the Inspired by… gallery, which features regularly changing exhibitions by artists who draw their inspiration from the North York Moors.
The North York Moors National Park Authority works with a wide variety of people to care for this beautiful corner of Yorkshire, providing apprenticeships and volunteering opportunities with nearly 14% of staff being apprentices from local families.
To view other press releases and for further information about the North York Moors National Park, visit www.northyorkmoors.org.uk
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