BOTH the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors national park authorities have announced a plan to include a virtual element in future Dark Skies Festivals after the lockdown event proved to be a big hit.

Figures collated by both Parks show more than 178,000 people worldwide tuned into the virtual Dark Skies programme.

It was put together in association with Go Stargazing as an alternative for visitors who were unable to travel because of the lockdown restrictions.

The two week virtual festival comprised over 40 events organised on platforms like Facebook, Zoom and YouTube together with wildlife webcams on artist Robert Fuller’s website and activity packs and aliens sent out to families.

Viewers from as far afield as Brazil, Sweden and Trinidad and Tobago watched as astronomers, researchers, wildlife experts, astro photographers, artists and National Park staff shared their passion for stargazing, space and nocturnal life.

Astronomer Richard Darn’s talk: ‘Beginners’ Guide to the Night Sky’ proved to be one of the most popular events attracting an audience of over 25,000 on Facebook Live and Zoom.

Similarly the live streaming of NASA’s Perseverance Rover landing on Mars and a talk on the historic event by Dr Fred Stephenson attracted a whopping 46,000 audience on Facebook Live and Zoom.

In addition virtual Dark Skies Festival content posted on social media platforms by both National Parks and Go Stargazing reached over four million people.

Both National Parks are now planning to include an online programme alongside physical events both for the Fringe Festival this October and the main February 2022 Festival, particularly after feedback showed that 95 per cent of people would be keen to see a repeat of the virtual format.

Helen Dalton, Tourism Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park commented: “The popularity of each online session was incredible and showed just how much dark skies and space continue to pique the curiosity of people right across the UK.

“While there is no substitute for actually experiencing a truly dark sky in beautiful National Park surroundings, we have discovered a new avenue with the virtual events that can inspire and engage even more youngsters and adults. Feedback also showed that 95 per cent of people were inspired to visit the National Parks in the future, which is fantastic to hear.”

Emily Watson, Visitor Development and Marketing Assistant for the North York Moors National Park added: “We know many people were disappointed they couldn’t visit this February particularly as both National Parks were celebrating their newly-designated International Dark Sky Reserve status.

“This is why we’ve confirmed the dates for this October’s Fringe Festival so that visitors can still plan a visit, particularly if they want to book dark skies friendly accommodation, which, in both National Parks, is likely to be snapped up quickly this year.”

More programme details for the Dark Skies Fringe Festival, which takes place in On October 22 to 31, will be available nearer the time.