Fineshade's dark skies
The Milky Way (Creative Commons CC0 via pixabay.com)
It's quite an experience to stand in the middle of Fineshade Wood on a dark moon-less night. The sounds of the forest at night are often amazing and, if conditions are right, the noise of distant traffic can be very faint indeed. During the summer you stand a chance of seeing Glow-worms, and bats are common.
But it is the lack of light that makes the experience special - it is certainly very unusual for this part of England. Once away from the lights at Top Lodge, you will be able to see no direct lighting, and the sky itself is really very dark, allowing you to see many stars, often including the Milky Way, without interference.
Satellites and aircraft lights can easily be seen and "shooting stars" are visible at certain times of the year. True, there is a glow to the south west towards Corby, and another patch of reflected light from Peterborough in the east, but even this light pollution is less than it used to be because of more modern, less intrusive street lighting.
Recognising that dark skies are becoming more widely valued, Friends of Fineshade contacted Tim Page, the local officer of the British Astronomical Assn's Commission for Dark Skies and invited him to visit Fineshade to assess just how dark Fineshade's dark sky really was. Tim was much impressed and suggested that we might nominate Fineshade as a “Dark Sky Discovery Site”.
There is a growing nationwide network of these sites - places that provide great views of the night sky and which are accessible to everyone. They have been nominated by local groups and organisations as their top local spot to see the stars. A number of Forestry Commission sites already have this status, but there are no sites at all in our part of the East Midlands region.
Nominating such a site needs the support of the land-owner, or in our case the Forestry Commission, so in 2016 we invited FC to join us in discussing the possibility and a response was received indicating their agreement that it was an interesting idea, but sadly saying that they were currently unable to support a Dark Skies Discovery Site nomination here. Of course, such a site would be incompatible with a plan to develop Fineshade with holiday cabins, something that was still a possibility at that time. (See here an indication of the light pollution associated with 70 Forest Holidays cabins).
However, FC indicated they would be happy to give the idea further consideration "later in the year, when we are clearer on the status of other potential projects".
Venus, above the trees at Top Lodge. Photo John Isherwood