International Dark Skies Week: Why Exmoor is key to stargazing this spring

The Dark Skies Discovery Trail gives people an opportunity to stargaze in one of the best locations in England Credit: PA

International Dark Skies Week will see dozens of families visit Exmoor National Park - the first site in Europe to be declared a Dark Sky reserve.

The week-long event runs from Friday 22 April to Saturday 30 April to encourage awareness of the importance of dark skies as well as to encourage better, less damaging lighting.

One event taking place this year is the Exmoor Dark Sky Discovery Trail.

The 3.2km walk takes visitors into one of the darkest parts of the national park using a safe and accessible route. The organisers say those following the trail will "enjoy incredible, 360-degree views of the night sky all around".

Exmoor National Park has the darkest skies in southern England due to its location and distance from surrounding light sources.

Organisers behind the Dark Skies Trail say "there is next to no light pollution" at the Larkbarrow farm ruins. Credit: Exmoor National Park.

Unlike other national parks such as Dartmoor, Exmoor is located away from major towns or cities, while the coastline mostly plays host to small villages. This means there is less light pollution across Exmoor, making it better for stargazing.

Exmoor National Park says "there is next to no light pollution" on the Dark Sky Discovery Trail "so you'll see thousands of stars with the naked eye".

How does The Dark Sky Discovery Trail work?

The Dark Sky Discovery Trail begins at a small road, just a few miles from the village of Exford in the heart of Exmoor.

There is roadside parking for a few cars at the start of the trail and nearby.

The walk itself is an hour long and is largely flat, travelling to the 18th century Larkbarrow farm ruins and back.

The trail cuts through the former farmland, which produced stilton wheat until 1852 when the farmer was forced to leave to pay his debts. During the Second World War, the land was used as a firing range.

Today, just the ruined walls of the farmhouse and outbuildings remain.

A guide is available from one of Exmoor National Park's centres or online.

There are one billion trillion stars in the observable universe - but light pollution and the equipment you use limits how many can be seen. Credit: Exmoor National Park.

What you can expect to see at The Dark Sky Discovery Trail

Stargazing is weather-dependent but organisers behind the Dark Sky Discovery say you should be able to see "thousands of stars", and "hear nothing but the the wind and wild life ahead".

They added: "Whatever the weather, the night soundscape of Exmoor will surround you."

This includes the screeching or hooting of owls, the noises of Exmoor ponies sheltering under the trees or cattle or deer grazing the fields.

International Dark Sky Week 2022 say light pollution is increasing at twice the rate of population growth. Credit: Exmoor National Park

There are one billion trillion stars in the universe, but it depends on pollution and what equipment is being used on how many stars someone can see.

"On a clear summer night, you'll have to stay up late but the Milky Way can be seen clearly overhead," the organisers also say.

Why is light pollution a problem?

According to International Dark Sky Week 2022, any artificial light that is not "needed is a pollutant that has serious and harmful consequences".

It says light pollution can disrupt wildlife, impact human health, contribute to climate change and waste money, as well as block our view of the universe.

Light pollution is also on the rise, according to the group, who say it is rising at twice the rate of population growth and that 83% of people now live under a light-polluted sky.