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- My homelands becomes a Super National Nature Reserve!
You heard it right! The Mendips Hills (AONB*) (SSI*) under the order of His Majesty, King Charles, has been recognised as a part of The King's Series of new National Nature Reserves. The term "Super" National Nature Reserve (SNNR) is the second of its kind here in the United Kingdom, with the first being declared at Purbeck Heath in Dorset. The Mendip NNR is largely recognised for its large stretches of limestone grasslands, ancient wooded ravines, and stunning geology. Local species such as adder, greater horseshoe bats, and skylark; and woodland and grassland plants such as the Cheddar pink are identified and is a protected home to nature. As it currently stands, the Mendips stands as a fragmentation of sites. By farmland, nature reserves, this newly defined status is hoped to join The Mendips together as one protected area, combined. This initiative in turn will protect over 1,400 hectacres of land between Brean Down by Weston-super-Mare, across the south-facing grasslands and woodlands of the Mendip Hills, to the eastern side of Wells. The NNR links ecologically important sites along the popular walking route of "The Mendip Way". More than 400 hectares will be land that has not previously been managed primarily for conservation. The main objectives: FOR WILDLIFE. Creating this new NNR will enhance the biodiversity of the Mendip Hills, making it a bigger, better and more joined up place for wildlife to thrive. It will help create a sustainable future for local communities, farmers, and businesses through the development and promotion of a nature rich landscape. FOR PEOPLE. A key ambition of the Mendip NNR is to improve inclusivity – both for the local community and the surrounding urban areas. Within a 20-minute drive there is an urban population of 700,000 people. We want to enable people of all backgrounds to enjoy nature and will create accessible ways to enjoy the landscape. TOGETHER. Nine organisations will work in partnership to improve collaboration and management for wildlife and geology. This partnership will be at the heart of nature recovery in the Mendip Hills. It will enable land managers to work together to maximise the benefits for nature, science, and people, improving access and creating more opportunities to connect with the natural world. But what does this important news mean from an astronomical perspective? As a Landscape Astrophotographer that is proud to call the Mendips, their home - this leap in conservation is not only the first of its kind for the area and second across The United Kingdom, but from the perspective of Dark Skies, this is an important step in the right direction. Not only does this mean the protection of land for nature conservation, but this also protects our "Dark-Sky Status" for years to come. Every day, the impact of Artificial Light at Night (ALAN) is growing as a posing risk for our protected areas with potential increase for greenfield and housing development - posing a risk to our natural landscapes and views of the night-sky. As it stands, The Mendips measures as 4.5 on The Bortle Scale, which can be used to measure the amounts of light pollution generated by both skyglow and skyglare from nearby towns and cities. Its this spread of ALAN that affects dark skies and when considering our protected areas where lighting should be used only where and when needed. This means The Mendips sits in the middle of this scale between light and dark. It's not hard to see from The Bortle Scale Map below how extensive Light Pollution has come from across The United Kingdom. In the words of my friend and one fo the greats in Dark-Sky Conservation - The Late, Bob Mizon "It has gotten out of control". Through the impacts of urban sprawl, we are lucky to have the quality of dark skies we have left. And it is my hopes of partnering with The Mendip Hills AONB to raise public awareness of dark skies through this initiative to consider for the local area and surrounds as to how lighting not only affects our 'window to the universe', but how this will hang a knock-on effect with nocturnal wildlife, migratory corridors as well as human health, which I am sure will be positively impacted by this initiative. I personally hope this initiative see's a changing attitude towards lighting in mimising our place on The Bortle Scale. Do I see this as a step in the right direction? - 100%. As a part of The King's Series, The UK will see the creation of 25 reserves over the next five years to tackle nature loss and enable species to thrive, all while improving access to these precious landscapes. It is my hope alongside protecting endangered British Wildlife and our precious landscapes that the night-sky will also be considered. I can certainly see this initiative to be seen as a 'trend setter' not just for the United Kingdom, but other countries in protecting and unifying our protected areas. Click the link here for the from the Government Website declaring the change as a Super National Nature Reserve. AONB - Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. SSI - Site of Special Scientific Interest.
- Starman hits the big smoke - The Astronomy Photographer of the Year Private Viewing:
And so, the day had arrived. Through months of anticipation and excitement built up through media and news coverage, Starman hit the big smoke, to the city of London and onwards to the Royal Observatory of Greenwich. Josh next to his installation, presenting his shortlisted image "The Enigma of the North" in the exhibition for The Astronomy Photographer of the Year (2023) at The National Maritime Museum. On the day itself, I had a lot of emotions. The experience brought back a lot of nostalgia for me. Having last been shortlisted for the competition back in 2017, with my image "Glastonbury Tor and the Double Flash". I had been invited to a tour of The Royal Observatory of Greenwich before proceeding on to The National Maritime Museum to view my shortlisted entry in this year's exhibition. Travel back in time to (2017 )when I was last shortlisted for The Astronomy Photographer of the Year. Photographed next to BBC Sky at Night Presenter, Chris Lintott. My shortlisted entry of that year "Glastonbury Tor and the Double Flash". When arriving to the National Maritime, I was awestruck to think I would be meeting some of the greats of the astrophotography community. It was here during the opening speeches that I saw my shortlisted image being presented. A massive moment for me, which made the experience all more real. Then, all shortlistees in attendance were invited to view the exhibition. "The Enigma of the North" presented in The Astronomy Photographer fo the Year Exhibition at The National Maritime Museum (2023). That moment. When you step around the corner and see your image being proudly displayed in the 'hall of fame', is a moment that really takes you back. When you see your image and think back to the story, which ultimately got shortlisted for this year's competition. Believing at the moment I took that photograph, 6-months had passed, thinking I would never pick up a camera again and then to believe that Callanish is what re-ignited my passion in connecting me with the stars. But I was not to expect the recognition it would obtain from both the media and the press. To having been interviewed on television, radio and even in print. Callanish started a real conversation about my astrophotography and it was not over yet. But most importantly, to lend thanks to the site of Callanish itself. An iconic stone circle that only few have been fortunate enough to travel to. Only to find that news had spread to the Isle of Lewis 'bringing the trophy home' to the islanders of Lewis. It was really emotional to think I have made their community and heritage, proud. Josh Photographed with some of the greats from this year's Astronomy Photographer of the Year Competition (Left: Yuri Beletsky, Middle: Ed Bloomer, Right: Josh photographed with his print going on sale at the shop for Astronomy Photographer of the Year). So after meeting the shortlisted photographers, I had been invited to attend the podcast for the competition, where in groups we were able to discuss our work and what got us into Astrophotography. The whole experience was heightened when I saw my image being displayed in the shop for this year's competition and to meet one of my idol in the Astrophotography world, Yuri Beletsky. Josh's photograph printed in this year's photobook publication for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023.
- The build up to The Astronomy Photographer of the Year...
When I captured the photograph that went on to be remembered as "The Enigma of the North", never did I believe it would be recognised for such a prestigious photography competition, I never thought I would pick up a camera again... When finding out earlier this year from an email sent to my spam folder, never did I think my image of Callanish would make it to the Skyscapes Category of 1 in 15 images for the shortlisted category, and the 140 shortlisted images from over 4,000 submissions!! When fact became reality, I really was lost for words. But this was only the beginning... "The Enigma of the North" shortlisted for The Astornomy Photographer of the Year Competition in The Skyscapes Category. The link to the Royal Observatory Greenwich Website featuring my shortlisted image can be found here: Not only did the news hit my local newspapers, it reached Bristol, then ITV news, BBC One and then news travelled as far as where this all started. Callanish itself. I couldn't believe the recognition this image was given. I owe a lot to it, because if it wasn't for that moment at Callanish; braving my camera one final time, I wouldn't be here writing this and having the confidence to carry on. "The Enigma of the North" tells of a very emotional experience, to capture the image and the journey it has taken me on to rebuild myself as a recognised Astrophotographer in the field. The highlight for me has to be when summoned to BBC Broadcasting House in Bristol for my interview on BBC Points West. Something I have always wished to achieve and to voice this to the South-West really was a privilege. Josh on the Red Sofa with BBC Points West Presenter, David Garmston discussing his shortlisted image for the competition. Aired 14th September 2023. Check out the interview with BBC Points West below. On the 26th September, I have been invited to a private viewing of the event by The Royal Observatory of Greenwich, where I will be given a physical copy of the year's publication including my image alongside being featured in a podcast! So watch this space!
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