ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners are bidding to protect their pitch black nights by chasing official dark sky status.

The Dedham Vale Society, a group set up to protect the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Constable Country, believe they have skies clear enough to be able to see the Milky Way, but are chasing official accreditation to protect against the threat of prospective light-emitting development.

Last week the International Dark Sky Association awarded the South Downs national park, which has very similar levels of darkness as the Dedham Vale, International Dark Sky Reserve status which has given society members a huge boost.

The group are working with expert astronomer Bob Mizon in their bid to achieve the protective status, and he believes they stand a fighting chance.

He said: "The British Astronomical Association, and especially its Commission for Dark Skies section, is particularly interested in the progress of the dark-sky initiative in the Dedham Vale area.

"We have worked on similar dark-sky preservation projects with Exmoor, Galloway Forest Park, Brecon Beacons, The Elan Valley, the South Downs National park and the island of Sark, and we are pleased to be collaborating with Dedham Vale in its dark-sky work.  

"We know from direct experience the night sky over the AONB is and will remain a precious natural resource for all who live in and around it.”

In order to put together a successful bid, the Dedham Vale Society needs individuals and organisations to carry out dark-sky readings and complete a full lighting audit.

Chairman Charles Clover is urging volunteers to come forward and get involved in the process, which could take up to two years.

He said: "We have long believed that the skies we have in the Stour Valley were dark enough to see the Milky Way and hundreds of stars but now Bob Mizon from the British Astronomical Association has measured their darkness for us we find that they really are as dark as in other already-protected landscapes elsewhere.

"The fingers of light are creeping towards us, though, from development all around.

"So now we need volunteers to start working towards becoming a dark sky park, which would give us the means to suggest to planners that when light is needed it is pointed downwards.

"We will need volunteers to take measurements to prove our case that the Stour Valley is one of the last places anywhere near London where the skies are dark and for local organisations to support us.

"We see this as one of the most important ways of making sure the Dedham Vale stays special for all.”

To get involved in the bid visit dedhamvalesociety.org.uk