Artist Bethan Maddock supported the event

In recognition of its pristine dark skies, and a commitment by the National Park Authority and its partners to keep them dark, the whole of Northumberland National Park and most of Kielder Water & Forest Park was awarded ‘International Dark Sky Park (Gold Tier)’ status in 2013 by Dark Sky International.

2023 marks the 10th anniversary of this designation, and there are a wide range of special activities happening in the Park to celebrate. In October, staff from the Learning Team paid a special visit to one of the schools in the north of the Park – Glendale Middle School – for a day of dark skies activities, accompanied by artist Bethan Maddocks, who is working with the Park to create a special dark skies themed installation entitled Noctalgia: Dark Skies Matter  at The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre.

We worked with two classes across the day, beginning with a simple question – why do dark skies matter? The students recorded their answers, before taking part in a dark skies themed quiz, to get them thinking about the night sky and some of the reasons why it is important for us to protect it. Quiz questions were themed around constellations, nocturnal animals, light pollution, the link between darkness and our health and wellbeing, and the ways in which ancient people used the night sky. Some of the questions were definitely trickier than others, and everyone did very well to come up with good answers for the less easy ones!

To test your own dark skies knowledge, here is one of the questions. What is this object? Read on to the end to find out…Nebra Sky Disc, an artefact excavated from a Bronze Age site in Germany. The gold shapes represent the sun (or a full moon), a lunar crescent, stars (including the Pleiades constellation), and the two solstices at either side. Archaeologists believe it was used as a kind of ancient calendar.

Following the quiz, some of the students worked with Bethan to explore light, shadows and  night pollinators. Bethan shared her artwork with pupils, where they got to handle papercuts and play with a light projector. They then made their own moth inspired by images of Northumberland moths, using paper, collage and drawing to make their own kinetic artwork.

The other students worked with Learning Officer Rachel to further explore the different planets in our solar system, and learn a bit more about light pollution, and the different types of light fittings we use in the National Park to make sure it stays as dark as possible. Finally the students returned to the original question – why do dark skies matter? Using black card, chalk, and chalk pens, and with some images and facts for inspiration, they worked in groups to make posters giving people information about why they should try and protect the night sky. See above for a slide show of some of their finished posters.

Many of the original answers to the question of why dark skies matter were linked to nocturnal animals, and that we need it to be dark to sleep. Some mentioned the beauty of seeing the night sky. We were pleased to see that by the end of the activities, the students had all learned something new about why darkness is so important to us, highlighting the cost of wasted light, why we try and minimise light pollution, and why darkness is important for our health and wellbeing. We hope that they will go on to become advocates for our Dark Sky Park in the future!

Please be sure to check out our special dark skies installation at The Sill, created by Bethan in partnership with community groups from across the North East. The exhibition opens on 9 December 2023. The dark skies learning programme at the National Park is supported by The Horseman Trust.

Child making a paper moth inspired by dark skies

Child making a paper moth inspired by dark skies

Children have made paper moths inspired by protecting our dark skies

Children have made paper moths inspired by protecting our dark skies

Quiz question answer: This object is a replica of the Nebra Sky Disc, an artefact excavated from a Bronze Age site in Germany. The gold shapes represent the sun (or a full moon), a lunar crescent, stars (including the Pleiades constellation), and the two solstices at either side. Archaeologists believe it was used as a kind of ancient calendar. In June 2013, the sky disc was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, and is considered as one of the most important archaeological finds of the twentieth century.