Dozens of stars hit by massive intrusion in dark Northumberland skies | Land rights


“Welcome to the night,” beamed a homelessness campaigner welcoming a busload of townspeople to the utter calm of remote Northumberland countryside on a chilly September evening.

The passengers had been lured by a secret offer posted on Instagram and old-school posters pinned to Newcastle.

Do they agree that the night sky belongs to all of us? Would they be part of the UK’s first massive dark sky intrusion?

About 70 registered. They arrived around 8.15pm on Thursday at land owned by the Duke of Northumberland near Rothbury. Stepping off the bus, they were guided to the Iron Age hill fort of Lordenshaw where, had the weather been clear, they would have seen the most abundant and wondrous Neolithic rock art in the United Kingdom. United.

But the main event was on the rise. The organizers were a snap to cancel because the weather was so horrible. However, by evening, the rain had stopped, the clouds parted, and what seemed like a million stars appeared.

Jupiter was glorious. The summer triangle stars of Altair, Vega and especially Deneb shone brightly. There were wows at the shooting stars and the possibility of seeing the distant Andromeda Galaxy, faint but visible.

The organizers had boldly dangled the carrot of being able to see the Milky Way and here it is in all its hazy glory of combined light from 300 billion stars.

Harry Jenkinson of the Right to Roam campaign said he had only ever seen the Milky Way from a village in the Solomon Islands, 9,000 miles away, and that was wrong.

“It made me realize how much we lost here in England,” he said. “The night sky is amazingly beautiful, but because of light pollution, most of us can’t see the Milky Way. It’s a basic right that our ancestors had. Before light pollution, they would have it. taken for granted.

Homelessness activists hold up a banner. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Jenkinson said the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 only opened up about 8% of English land.

Throughout England, including Lordenshaws, there are access agreements between the public and landowners. “But you’re not allowed to stray off the path, which is just ridiculous,” he said.

“We are still basically restricted to 92 per cent of the countryside in England, but beyond the border in Scotland, which is only 20 miles that way, they have the right to roam. If you can do that in Scotland, why not here?

The intrusion took place on the same day as the Green MP Caroline Lucas introduced her Roaming Rights Bill to Parliament.

Visitors alighting from the bus were told they were on an estate owned by the Duke of Northumberland which was 120,000 acres – ‘more than four times the size of Newcastle’.

Jenkinson said: ‘We are not trying to take land away from landowners. Just let us walk. Let’s gaze at the stars as the people who made the carvings and built the fort on the hill would have had the right to do. They wouldn’t have been told to stay on the trails.

After the mass intrusion, one group spent the night wild camping, also banned except on Dartmoor, where activists say it is under threat.

The evening featured folk music by Jemima Thewes and tales by Luke Winter which included, for reasons hard to remember, a band rendition of Eminem’s Stan.

There were snacks, vegan hot chocolate and an astronomy talk by Neill Sanders, creator of the Go Stargazing website, who chose Thursday night because it was moonless and one of the best nights in the world. year to see the stars.

He said the intruders were looking at about 2,500 individual stars. If people looked at the city’s night sky, because of the light pollution, they could see a hundred of them.

Sanders said one of the biggest light pollution threats is the cheap and incredibly bright LED lights that people buy for things like home security.

Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

“It’s great to get involved with the right to roam guys and find out what the legalities are, how you can do things legally and safely, raise awareness and argue that places like this are absolutely fabulous for stargazing. More places like this should be accessible.

A Northumberland Estates spokesperson said: “The public has free access to many thousands of acres of estate owned and managed land across Northumberland and Scotland.

“We also provide and maintain nearly 300 miles of public rights of way and other paths and roads. We are delighted that so many members of the public are visiting and enjoying this land.

“The dark sky event took place on Northumberland Estates land in the national park which is accessible by public footpaths and most of this land is above the moor line meaning the public has always access to enjoy it.

“The whole of Northumberland National Park and most of Kielder Water and Forest Park became England’s first international dark sky park in 2013 and is the largest protected night sky gold level dark sky park in Europe.

“The Official Rural Code helps balance the desires for recreational access with effective land management and provides excellent advice on how to enjoy access responsibly to protect animals and livestock and prevent damage such than forest fires.”




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