Forest of Bowland prepares for 'wondrous' Dark Skies Festival

The Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty showcases its wondrous night skies in a week-long Dark Skies Festival next month.

The festival features a live moon watch, bat talk, star gazing, forest moon bathing, smartphone astrophotography, and crafts.

It celebrates the fact that the Forest of Bowland AONB has some of the darkest skies in England, with several Dark Sky Discovery Sites accredited by the Royal Observatory Edinburgh.

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Stargazers are advised to wrap up warm and take advantage of February, as winter offers an optimum time, with clearer, colder skies.

Dark skies at Pendle. Photo: Matthew Savage.
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    Hetty Byrne, sustainable tourism officer for the AONB said: "Light pollution means that truly dark skies are becoming increasingly rare. With our Dark Skies Festival, we want people to discover the magical sight of the planets and constellations.

    "The longer nights of winter are good for star gazing and, given the right conditions, you can feast your eyes on everything from the Plough to the Milky Way.”

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    Many guided events are hosted by local professional astronomer, Robert Ince.

    Robert said: “We’re very lucky that the Forest of Bowland has excellent dark skies and very low light pollution. Pendle is a beautiful location with the advantage of being very elevated; you can actually see the aurora from there in the right conditions.”

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    Robert, who studied Physics and Astronomy, and worked for British Aerospace and the MoD before working in Astro-tourism full-time, hopes the festival will excite young people into science.

    He said: “As a star is basically a nuclear fusion reactor and with the planets going around the stars showing the classic laws of motion in action, the young enquiring minds can really start to latch on to astronomy, bringing science into their direct experiences whilst being enthralling and visceral.”

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    The festival also aims to raise awareness of the threat of light pollution to the night skies.

    A recent study in the UK highlights light pollution as a worrying driving factor in the apocalyptic decline of the global insect population. Migrating birds and nocturnal animals such as frogs are some of the species affected by artificial light.

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    Light pollution also impacts on our own circadian rhythms, which can result in sleep deprivation, fatigue, anxiety and other health issues.

    Hetty said: “All of us can do small things to reduce light pollution, such as switching off a porch light at night. Not only will it save you money, it helps our planet and its wildlife, as well as our own health and well-being.”

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    The festival promises to inspire the big questions, such as how life was created and are we alone in the universe.

    Robert said: “It’s the natural human condition to try and make sense out of chaos and seeing the points of light in the sky, joining them dot to dot, you may see shapes of creatures; we talk about the mythology and cultures behind that.”

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    Robert, says he thinks the statistical chance of us being the only life in the universe are so improbable to be impossible.

    He added: “The view of the Milky Way spanning from horizon to horizon, in a dark sky where you can see the dark bands of dust that make the spiral arms of our own galaxy, still makes my heart flutter. The stars can be like diamonds on velvet at that time of year. It’s always worth the investment to get outside and experience it.”

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    Bookings are open now. For more information and event details go to• Saturday 12th – Live Moon Watch (face to face) with local professional astronomer, Robert Ince

    • Sunday 13th – Live Moon Watch (virtual) with Robert Ince

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    • Monday 14th – Exploring the Universe with Robots (virtual) with Dr Chris Arridge, Lancaster University Department of Physics

    • Tuesday 15th – Family bat talk (virtual) with Gail Armstrong – aka The Bat Lady

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    • Wednesday 16th – Smartphone Astrophotography talk (virtual) with Robert Ince

    • Thursday 17th – Family dark skies crafts (face to face) with Alison Cross, Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership

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    • Friday 18th – Stargazing (face to face) with Robert Ince

    • Saturday 19th – Forest Moon Bathing (face to face) with Stacey McKenna-Seed of Rewilding Outdoor Therapy

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    Visitors wanting to stay and explore the area for a little longer can choose from a number of Dark Sky Friendly businesses - many of them accommodation providers offering information about star gazing in Bowland. Details available at