An island in north Wales has officially been hailed as a mecca for stargazers after becoming the first location in Europe to be awarded for having one of the world’s clearest night skies. Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island in English) off the Llŷn Peninsula has earned an International Dark Sky Sanctuary (DSS) certification, making it the first location in Europe to secure such an award.
The remote Welsh location is one of 16 others to meet the strict criteria of exceptionally dark and remote locations of DSS award winners, all of which have “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights”.
The International Dark Sky Association says that any outside lights in the area must point downwards with an orange glow rather than blue.
The Welsh area has such optimal stargazing conditions partly due to a mountain on the island that functions as an effective barrier which limits light from the mainland. Located two miles off the Llŷn Peninsula, the exceptionally remote 1.5-mile-long island also has no cars, electricity grid or indoor toilets.
The nearest source of significant light pollution comes from Dublin, more than 70 miles across the Irish Sea.
The trust which owns the island said receiving the award is a “huge achievement” which could raise the island’s profile and establish Wales as a “dark sky nation”.
Sian Stacey, chair of the island’s trust, told BBC News: ”There’s no doubt that achieving this prestigious status for Ynys Enlli will raise the profile of the island as a unique place in Wales and amongst the best in the world to appreciate the night sky.
“We hope it will also go a long way in securing the long-term sustainability of the island.”
The new certification will now regularly be reviewed by the International Dark Skies Association (IDA). Wardens involved in the certification process will be required to take measurements and keep a record them.
Mari Huws, one of the island’s wardens involved in the certification process, told BBC News: ”Living here I am always in awe of the island’s beauty – and the night sky is very much a part of that.
“Having secured the certification, we look forward to welcoming visitors here over the coming months and years and sharing with them our unique story.
“In a world that’s increasingly being polluted, it’s a privilege to be able to work towards protecting something that is pristine for future generations.”
Ynys Enlli was already one of 18 International Dark Sky Reserves in the world. Other Welsh sites – Eryri (Snowdonia) and Brecon Beacons national parks in the north and south and the Elan Valley Estate in mid-Wales, also hold these titles.
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Ruskin Hartley, IDA’s executive director, said Ynys Enlli welcomed the addition of the island to the global dark sky community.
He said: “Wales is fast becoming one of the leading nations in protecting dark skies as a precious resource that benefits people and wildlife.”
Ynys Enlli has been dubbed the “Island of 20,000 Saints” because of its ancient Celtic and Christian monasteries, and it is home to a small community of residents who work the land and fish the seas. Evidence indicates that it was inhabited from as early as the bronze age.
It has a Bird and Field Observatory as well as just 10 cottages for visitors. Other official Dark Sky Sanctuaries can be found in several locations in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, and the South Pacific.
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