ONE of Tyrone’s most striking natural amenities could become only Ireland’s fourth UNESCO World Heritage site.
On Thursday night, councillors agreed to start exploring the process to gain global recognition of the dark skies over the Davagh Forest area near Kildress, which is now home to a brand new £1.5million observatory.
Increasing numbers of star gazers, photographers and tourists have been visiting the remote region of the Sperrins in recent years to take advantage of the unique lack of light pollution which gives unrivalled views of the dark skies.
With UNESCO World Heritage status, members of Mid Ulster District Council are hoping the area could see an exponential increase in visitors and in turn, boost the local economy.
As well as the new OM Dark Sky Observatory in Davagh Forest, the area is also home to the ancient Beaghmore Stone Circles which are older than Stonehenge.
Sinn Féin councillor, Sean Clarke – who lives just a few miles from Davagh – put forward the proposal at the monthly meeting of Mid Ulster District Council, which was given unanimous approval.
“Our Dark Sky Park would definitely merit the recognition. It is already accepted as one of the relatively few areas throughout the world where the night sky is largely unaffected by light pollution,” he said.
“There is also the significance of the archaeological sites in this locality and it is evident that for thousands of years people have been drawn to live in this area and its clear views of the sky.
“As a result, Davagh Dark Sky Park is an extremely important site from an historic, archaeological and indeed environmental viewpoint.”
At the meeting, some concerns were raised by several councillors.
Ulster Unionist Cllr Derek McKinney said he feared UNESCO status may impact on future developments.
“I feel that we have just come out of lockdown and I feel that if this was to go forward, it would put the whole area into total lockdown for planning and expansion of business, for family homes.”
But Cllr Clarke said those concerns would be addressed as the council investigated what new regulations may be introduced if the region were successful in achieving the status.
“The Magherafelt, Cookstown and Dungannon areas will all benefit from it. It will cost money, but the return will be way and above what is invested.
“This will put Mid Ulster on another level.”
Should the Dark Sky Park be successfully accepted as a UNESCO site, then it would be only the fourth in Ireland, following in the footsteps of the Giants Causeway, Sceilg Mhichil on the west coast of Kerry and Bru na Boinne on the bend of the River Boyne in Co Meath.