Warrumbungle National Park has been declared Australia’s first Dark Sky Park, recognising and protecting its key role in astronomical research.
In what is envisaged as a boon for local tourism, the confirmation of the park’s new status by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) has been greeted with enthusiasm by Warrumbungle Shire Council, astronomers and local astro-tourism operators.
Australian Astronomical Observatory head of Lighting and Environment, Professor Fred Watson, who spear-headed the nomination, said the area was already a dark site, so was an obvious candidate for Australia’s first IDA- recognised Dark Sky Park.
“I am thrilled with the new Dark Sky status, which will give central western NSW the opportunity to educate and exemplify the benefits of dark skies and the use of sky-friendly lighting,” Professor Watson said.
The heritage-listed national park attracts over 80,000 bushwalkers, rock climbers, birdwatchers and nature-lovers from Australia and around the world annually, and it is expected that the Dark Sky declaration will lead to an influx in tourism to the area.
Steve Loane, general manager of Warrumbungle Shire Council, said he was delighted with the announcement of the Warrumbungle Dark Sky Park.
“The international travelling public is an untapped resource for the Dark Sky Park, and we welcome the opportunity to support astro-tourism in the Warrumbungle Region,” Mr Loane said.
“The Warrumbungle Shire Council lighting policy that regulates the installation and use of lighting within an 18-kilometre radius of the Australian Astronomical Observatory at Siding Spring is now captured in state legislation, with the Department of Planning gazetting a new State Environmental Planning Policy, otherwise known as a SEPP. This means that any development, including mining ventures, within a 200km radius of Siding Spring needs to abide by the Dark Sky Planning Guideline.”
However, Mr Loane said the guideline is not restrictive, and serves to protect the observing conditions at Siding Spring.
Marnie Ogg, manager of Sydney Observatory, who worked with Professor Watson on the dark sky submission, said the process was made “relatively easy” due to the very strong lighting policies already in place from surrounding shires,
“The Warrumbungle National Park is the first Dark Sky Park in Australia. To be first is pretty significant,” Ms Ogg said.
“This is a fabulous result for tourism and the park itself.
“A Dark Sky Park doesn’t mean no lighting, or people stumbling around in the dark, it just shows how good correct
lighting can be, to not have the wastage of upward- pointing lighting.
“People are fascinated to look at a dark sky, and the public can access the Warrumbungles 24 hours a day in safety.”
Ms Ogg said the benefits to tourism at other Dark Sky Parks and Reserves throughout the world had been incredible.
“NamibRand Nature Reserve, a private nature reserve in southern Namibia, was designated an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2012,” she said.
“An enormous number of tourists now travel to the reserve.”
State Government Planning Minister, Rob Stokes and Environment Minister, Mark Speakman also welcomed the park’s new status.
Mr Stokes said the park’s dark sky qualities will be protected with $100,000 in funding to control light pollution, while a new Dark Sky Planning Guideline has been developed with the Australian Astronomical Observatory.
“Warrumbungle National Park has long been recognised not only for its beauty at ground level, but also for the wonder it holds in the night sky above,” Mr Stokes said.
“It’s an outstanding place to view the night sky and, with the nearby Siding Spring Observatory, plays an important role in Australian astronomical research.
“As nearby communities grow, it’s important we plan to protect the park’s dark sky qualities from light pollution now and into the future.”
Mr Speakman said the Dark Sky Park’s status would benefit the environment as well as stargazers.
“Light pollution has a detrimental effect not only on professional and amateur astronomy, but it also impacts on those parts of the ecosystem, such as nocturnal animals, which are reliant on dark night skies,” Mr Speakman said.
Warrumbungle Shire Council mayor, Peter Shinton, said strong, lighting policies had contributed to the success of the dark sky designation.
“I view the Dark Sky Park declaration as the massive thank you to the residents of Coonabarabran, Coonamble and Gilgandra shires for reducing light spill for all of those years and enabling Australia’s number one astronomy research facility to continue to contribute to science and to remain relevant,” Cr Shinton said.
“The Siding Spring complex contributes millions of dollars to our economy in wages alone - never mind the contribution to tourism, to the suppliers, contractors, accommodation and, of course, the world- acclaimed Science in the Pub and BOK Lecture contributions.
“Private enterprise has also taken the opportunity to develop in the shadow of Siding Spring.
“We get all of this because we are smart enough to direct our arti cial lighting downwards.”
Warrumbungle National Park joins other international parks such as Death Valley National Park in the United States and Galloway Forest Park in Scotland as officially designated Dark Sky Parks.
Warrumbungle National Park has been designated a Dark Sky Park, the first in Australia and the southern hemisphere.