Orkney’s most northerly community is now officially a Dark Sky Island.
North Ronaldsay has been recognised as an International Dark Sky Community by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), with the island joining a select band of locations around the world.
The announcement was made by the IDA during an Orkney International Science Festival online event featuring Scotland’s new Astronomer Royal, Prof. Catherine Heymans, and IDA’s Director of Conservation, Ashley Wilson.
The accreditation comes after more than a decade of hard work by the local community, including dark-sky measurements, comprehensive lighting surveys, and commitments to preventing light pollution and preserving dark skies.
The North Ronaldsay Community Association laid the foundations for the application, with that work continued by the island’s trust. Residents and visitors have taken part in a wide-ranging programme of astronomy activity over the years too.
Now North Ronaldsay is listed alongside the likes of Flagstaff in Arizona and Fulda in Germany. There are two other Dark Sky Communities in the UK – the island of Coll and the town of Moffat – as well as Sark in the Channel Islands. There are also six UK Dark Sky Parks.
It’s another attraction for the island which is already famed for its seaweed-eating sheep. The sheep are kept on the shoreline by a 13-mile-long stone dyke that encircles the island. North Ronaldsay is also home to the UK’s tallest land-based lighthouse and the local Bird Observatory – the island is on migratory routes and regularly welcomes a fabulous selection of birdlife.
The chair of North Ronaldsay Trust, John Oliver Scott, said: “This is exciting news, something that the island has been working towards for a number of years. North Ronaldsay benefits from big skies and no light pollution or atmospheric pollution, which gives heart-stopping views of the moon, constellations and planets and of course the aurora borealis. We hope that Dark Sky status will increase visitor numbers over our dark winter months. There is a range of accommodation available for dark sky enthusiasts and a warm welcome awaits you.”
North Ronaldsay's position at the northern fringe of the archipelago, surrounded by wild seas and strong tides, lends itself perfectly to dark sky status. Local artist, Ian Scott, described autumn and winter in the island perfectly:
“On a clear, frosty night the stars shine and sparkle with even greater intensity in the blue-black velvety dome of the sky, with the constellations and planets making their rounds or the Milky Way tracing its great path across the heavens. And then, when the conditions are right, the Merry Dancers can dominate the northern skies; sometimes a luminous, white changing curtain of light and at other times shimmering and dancing across the northern sky in beautiful colours of red and green.”