Oxford gains dark sky park status

By David Hill, Local Democracy Reporter

Oxford astronomers hope to protect views of the galactic centre.
Photo: Supplied / Raul Elias-Drago

Oxford has become the 6th New Zealand community to gain dark sky accreditation.

Dark Sky International has granted international dark sky park accreditation to the 11,350-hectare Oxford Forest Conservation Area to the west of the town, which is owned by the Department of Conservation.

Oxford joins dark sky sanctuaries Aotea Great Barrier Island and Rakiura Stewart Island, and dark sky reserves Aoraki Mackenzie, Wai-Iti (Tasman district) and Wairarapa.

Oxford Dark Sky president Raul Elias-Drago said the dark sky park status was an important first step towards applying for international dark sky reserve status.

”We are very excited about it as we only filed the application two months ago.

”The Oxford sky is truly pristine. We get some of the best naked eye views of the Milky Way, and from just about anywhere in Oxford.”

Elias-Drago said the advantage of gaining to dark sky park status first was the community could gain the benefits of dark sky status while continuing to have the conversations around lighting regulations.

Conversations had already begun with Waimakariri District Council around possible changes to the District Plan.

He said the dark sky rules would make little difference to individuals.

To reduce light pollution organisations could point their lights down, turn off when not needed, and using shielding or a timer.

Conversations around becoming a dark sky site began five years ago, but it was not until June last year when Oxford Dark Sky was established following a community meeting.

It was initiated by the Oxford Area School Observatory, and principal Mike Hart said there were benefits for the school and the wider community.

”It will provide many learning opportunities for our students through work around environmental impacts and energy resources, underpinning our work with the observatory.”

Sasha Crawford takes a measurement of the night sky in the Oxford Forest Conservation Area.

Sasha Crawford takes a measurement of the night sky in the Oxford Forest Conservation Area last year. Dark sky measurements were needed to support the dark sky park application.
Photo: David Hill / North Canterbury News via LDR

Oxford-Ohoka Community Board chairperson Thomas Robson said the decision would support conservation efforts and tourism in the town.

”The area’s night sky has long been appreciated by locals, and it will be good to share this natural, unspoiled beauty with night sky enthusiasts.”

Dark Sky International dark sky places program manager Amber Harrison said the Oxford application was ”an excellent example” of how collaboration and education could inspire change.

Oxford has joined more than 200 dark skies around the world, with the majority being in the United States.

New Zealand now has six accredited dark sites, 4th equal with Canada, and behind the United Kingdom and Germany. Australia has just four.

Waimakariri Mayor Dan Gordon said the accreditation was the result of hard work and research by volunteers in the Oxford Dark Sky group

It would bring benefits for the wider district, as well as Oxford, he said.

”Not only does the accreditation bring economic benefits to Oxford, but it also reduces the negative effects of light pollution on astronomical observation.”

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

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