For decades light pollution has been increasing globally, and in the UK between 1993 and 2000 light pollution increased by 24%, with the amount of truly dark night sky falling from 15% to 11%.
The encroachment of light pollution on the Brecon Beacons, primarily from the south is clearly seen in the satellite image on the right.
In addition to denying the wonder of the night sky to future generations, light pollution also has serious negative effects on the environment, the economy, wildlife and health.
For more information on these benefits, click here
To help address this issue, in 2011 the Brecon Beacons Park Society initiated and was one of the main driving forces behind a project to control light pollution in the Brecon Beacons National Park. This collaborative project with the Park Authority, the University of South Wales, local government, and many other organisations and communities and supported by the Prince of Wales, was very successful in protecting the quality of our night sky.
In recognition of the work of project, in 2013 the Brecon Beacons National Park became an International Dark Sky Reserve, only the fifth in the world at that time.
Progress since International Dark Sky Reserve recognition.
Brecon Beacons Observatory
A small observatory was established at the Mountain Centre in October 2014, and since then over 2000 people have enjoyed its facilities.
Additionally an observatory Facebook page has been created where every post is looked at by around 1000 people.
One of the first photographs taken at the observatory:
The Andromeda galaxy and satellites (Martin Griffiths)
Stargazing continues to be very popular with National Park residents and visitors alike with typically about 20 events per year put on by various organisations, businesses and communities. Additionally there are several larger events such as the annual Astrocamp in Cwm Du which attracts about 300 people.
There is also a Dark Sky presence at major events such as the Abergavenny Food Festival (45,000 people), the Green Man Festival (10,000 people) and the Eisteddfod (130,000 people).
In the year 2016/17 over 1200 people have been directly involved in stargazing activities in the Reserve.
Night Sky Quality
A re-survey of the quality of the night sky in the IDSR was carried out in 2016 which showed an overall improvement of about 5%.
This may not seem much but prior to controls on light pollution being put in place the night sky was degrading rapidly, so to have not only arrested this decline but to have produced an improvement is a remarkable achievement.
This allows us all to see things like the Trifid Nebula from the observatory (photographed by Martin Griffiths)
Business Buy In
The award of the International Dark Sky Reserve status received a very large amount of media attention and our Dark Skies of the Brecon Beacons video gained tremendous exposure which together generated about £2M worth of publicity for the Brecon Beacons area.
To help local businesses take advantage of this exposure a Dark Sky Friendly Practices guide for businesses was created, and a Dark Sky Ambassador scheme set up. The DS Ambassador scheme helped businesses develop their understanding of our dark skies so that they could engage with their customers on this subject. At the time of writing 65 local businesses had taken the two day course and had become qualified DS Ambassadors.
Spreading the Word
The Society and Authority have been very active in spreading the message of the multiple benefits of controlling light pollution in Wales. Our IDSR Board members have been speaking to other regions and have already assisted the Peak District, Snowdonia, Anglesey, Elan Valley, New Forest, South Downs, Clwydian Range, County Mayo, Kerry and Cranborne Chase with developing their plans to gain International Dark Sky status. Personal visits by members of the Dark Sky Board have been made to six of these destinations which demonstrates our proactive approach to promoting Dark Skies.
More locally we have engaged with a number of communities in and near the Brecon Beacons National Park to gain dark sky discovery site status and the Authority has signed an official research partnership with the University of South Wales to explore a variety of research areas including those focused on light pollution.
Additionally we helped the Authority to secure £39,000 to help develop Dark Sky tourism and public engagement in the South West of Wales.
The Milky Way in the Elan Valleys International Dark Sky Park, photographed by Martin Griffiths.
Where are we now?
Although there is still much to be done in protecting our dark skies and generally controlling light pollution to gain other benefits for the people of Wales now and into the future, the Society should be proud of what we have helped achieve so far.