The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) states that, ‘The natural night sky is our common and universal heritage, yet it’s rapidly becoming unknown.’ Much like the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) exists to promote the conservation and sustainable re-use of historic buildings, the IDA works to preserve the night skies for present and future generations by protecting them from light pollution.
Located off the Llŷn Peninsula in North Wales, Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) has recently been announced as the first site in Europe to be awarded International Dark Sky Sanctuary certification. The island’s location makes it one of the darkest places in the UK and the mountain on the island also serves as an effective barrier against light from the mainland. Enlli has significant built heritage, with 36 Grade II-listed structures, including 12 buildings and two Scheduled Ancient Monuments. Bardsey Island Trust has owned Ynys Enlli and its buildings since 1979 and works to promote the island as a place of scientific, historical and special spiritual interest.
Image: The Storws, Ynys Enlli. Photo courtesy of the Bardsey Island Trust.
The Trust is currently seeking to identify re-use options of the Storws, a 19th-century structure originally built as a store to aid in the construction of Bardsey Lighthouse. Situated at the head of Cafn, a small inlet where boats are launched and landed on the island, the Storws is the first building visitors engage with upon arrival to the island. It is hoped that Ynys Enlli’s new status as a Dark Sky Sanctuary will attract an increase in visitors who want to appreciate the beauty of the night sky. Therefore, the restoration of the Storws will create a flexible space that can provide a platform for multiple uses, including a focal point for people to begin and end their visits; interpretation of the island’s built and natural heritage; retail of gifts and Trust membership; and donation collections. The AHF has supported this project with a Project Development Grant and a Capital Works Grant, both awarded in 2022.
Another AHF-supported project in Wales with links to dark skies is The Equatorial Observatory. Constructed in 1846 by John Dillwyn Llewelyn, a pioneering photographer with interests in science and astronomy, the Grade II*-listed observatory is situated in Penllergare Valley Woods, Swansea. In 1855, one of the earliest photographs of the moon was taken from the observatory by Llewelyn and his daughter, Thereza.
Image: The Equatorial Observatory, Penllergare. Photo courtesy of The Penllergare Trust.
Dark Sky Wales are a team of professional educators who provide workshops designed to encourage people to enjoy and explore the stars, our galaxy, the universe, astronomy and science. For this project, the Penllergare Trust will work in partnership with Dark Sky Wales to restore the Equatorial Observatory and create a planetarium. Alongside interactive displays highlighting the history of the building and its role in early photography, a programme of activities will be curated for the growing astro-tourism sector. Educational visits to the observatory will link to the new national curriculum in Wales, with a focus on local history and STEM subjects, including space. The AHF has supported this project with a Project Development Grant, awarded in September 2022.
Sian Stacey, Chair of the Bardsey Island Trust, said:
“It’s the culmination of several years hard work involving our own team, as well as our partners across the region and beyond. 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.”
Celeste Ryan, Project Coordinator at The Penllergare Trust, said:
"We are really excited by the opportunities to breathe life back into the Observatory with a potential new future as a planetarium. The AHF have been crucial in supporting us in our aim to restore the historically significant building so that it can inspire future generations."
To mark Ynys Enlli’s certification as a Dark Sky Sanctuary, the Bardsey Island Trust is holding a celebratory event on 8th of March, which will be attended by Derek Walker, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, along with Aberdaron school pupils, representatives from Dark Sky groups in Estonia, Lithuania and Austria, and community representatives.
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