Oxford Forest Conservation Area earns International Dark Sky Park accreditation

Oxford Forest Conservation Area (11,350 hectares) in Cantebury has become the latest accredited dark sky site in New Zealand. DARKSKY INTERNATIONAL has recognised the community’s work in

–        Promoting practical and quality lighting policies,

–        Conducting outreach and education on the benefits of better lighting,

–        Gaining local support to reduce light pollution.

The location now consequently stands out as a regional attraction.

The first conversations on creating a dark sky site date back to more than 5 years ago. However, it wasn’t until early 2023 when residents put together a plan and created OXFORD DARK SKY, the volunteer Group made up of more than 20 local public and private organisations, who would go on to drive the initiative. Mike Hart, OXFORD AREA SCHOOL Principal and OXFORD DARK SKY member, says “We believe the introduction of the Oxford Dark Sky Park will increase our connection with the community enabling us to link with the cultural and celestial heritage of our area. It will provide many learning opportunities for our students through work around environmental impacts and energy resources, underpinning our work with the Observatory”. Local support and momentum have continued to grow across schools and the township over these last 12 months. Thomas Robson, OXFORD-OHOKA COMMUNITY BOARD Chairperson and OXFORD DARK SKY member, adds “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.  We look forward to supporting this initiative in any way we can going forward.” Collaboration with neighbouring Christchurch City, Selwyn and Hurunui is already under discussion.

“This effort is an excellent example of how collaboration, education, and outreach can raise awareness and inspire change at the community level. Economic development, marketing strategies, and district lighting plans are now being developed with an eye towards dark sky conservation for the benefit of the community and future generations. Such outcomes are a goal of the Dark Sky Places certification program,” stated Amber Harrison, Dark Sky Places Program Manager at DARKSKY INTERNATIONAL.

Sky darkness measurements in the Oxford Forest Conservation Area average 21.46 mag/arcsec2, well surpassing the 21.20 required threshold, with some individual readings as high as 21.80 mag/arcsec2. “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” says OXFORD DARK SKY President Raul Elias-Drago. Specialised sensors measure light emanating from a very small patch of night sky overhead equivalent to about the size of a blueberry at a distance of 4 kilometres. Unshielded external lights, moonlight, cloud cover, fog, month and time of night all greatly affect sky darkness. The Park is open to the public 365 days/year and 24 hours/day.

The Oxford sky combined with its proximity to Christchurch makes the dark site unique. “Oxford offers one of the darkest and most accessible dark sky experiences in New Zealand. Here, you can enjoy an amazingly dark sky and peer straight into the Galactic Centre – all of this, at less than 1 hour from downtown Christchurch, the Canterbury ski fields or our international airport” adds Mr. Elias-Drago. Given the choice in accommodation, restaurants, shopping, astronomy and outdoor activities, the Group expects Oxford to feature on many weekend and travel itineraries. “Oxford, its Observatory, the Park are among the many local jewels. So come for a visit and just look up!”

Oxford Forest Conservation Area now joins more than 200 Places that have demonstrated robust community support for dark sky advocacy and strive to protect the night from light pollution.

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