This U.K. Island You've Never Heard Of Just Became Europe's First Dark Sky Sanctuary

The stargazing is exceptional at Bardsey Island in Wales, which was just designated Europe's first dark sky sanctuary.

Celtic cross against night sky full of stars, Bardsey Island, Wales, UK

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/Getty Images

Just as national parks are charged with preserving the natural environment and protected animals, the starry night skies are protected by the International Dark-Sky Association. Destinations all over the world — from the Boundary Waters of Minnesota to Warrumbungle National Park in Australia — have been recognized by the International Dark Sky Places conservation program for their unpolluted dark skies, mindful lighting policies, and public education efforts. 

But in places like Europe, which are densely populated, achieving the conservation program’s “sanctuary” status can be difficult. The sanctuary-level certification status is only for “the most remote (and often darkest) places in the world whose conservation state is most fragile,” according to International Dark-Sky Association's website. This is why the recent announcement that Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) in Wales was named an International Dark Sky Sanctuary is so groundbreaking. The island is Europe’s first dark sky sanctuary and joins just 16 other sanctuary sites around the world.

“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,” said Sian Stacey, chair of the Bardsey Island Trust, in a Feb. 22 press release.

Ynys Enlli, Bardsey Island’s Welsh name, is home to a small community and is separated from any major light pollution by the sea. Mainland Wales is just under two miles away and the closest source of significant light pollution comes from Dublin, which is more than 70 miles across the Irish Sea.

The tiny island is home to ancient ruins and the Bardsey Bird Observatory, which is known for its after-dark, star-studded walks to see Manx Shearwater birds. Seals and dolphins reside along Ynys Enlli’s shores, too.

And now, as one of just 17 places in the world with the coveted “sanctuary” designation, Ynys Enlli has confirmed its status as Europe’s premiere stargazing destination. The island is open to visitors from March until October with access provided by Bardsey Island Boat Trips. Those who want to glimpse the night skies can stay in one of the island’s traditional cottages and farmhouses, or book a room in the oceanfront Gwesty Tŷ Newydd hotel. 

“We knew we lived in a special place, this new status confirms this, with IDSS putting Enlli firmly on the global stage. In a world that’s increasingly being polluted, it’s a privilege to be able to work toward protecting something that is pristine for future generations,” Mari Huws, one of the wardens on Ynys Enlli who was involved in the certification process, said in the press release.

While Ynys Enlli is Europe’s first designated “sanctuary,” Wales has several established dark sky places, including Brecon Beacons National Park and Eryri National Park (Snowdonia).

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