VisitScotland Chairman John Thurso visited the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory in Ayrshire ahead of the first-ever European Dark Sky Park conference last week.

Lord Thurso toured the facility within the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park where outdoor lighting is controlled to make sure stargazers have the best view of the night sky.

The visit coincided with the start of the conference, organised by the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, which took place at Cally Palace Hotel, Gatehouse of Fleet, from September 20 to 22, in Dumfries & Galloway.

The event brought together some of the world’s top dark sky experts with the aim of promoting rural development, tourism and tackling light pollution.

The conference was attended by astronomers, town planners, lighting specialists, environmentalists and academics who gathered to discuss the benefits of achieving a Dark Sky status.

Galloway Forest Park became the first European and the fifth Dark Sky Park in the world in 2009, with tourism the prime driver for establishing the designation which generates an estimated £500,000 from tourism every year.

In his keynote address, Lord Thurso highlighted the success of the Dark Sky Park project that brings environmental, rural economy, tourism and health agendas together. He praised the success of the initiative that takes advantage of a free asset that, in particular, draws visitors to the region in the winter months.

Lord Thurso said: “Scotland’s reputation as a quality destination relies on continued investment and innovation to ensure that current provision meets future demand.

“Hosting Europe’s first ever Dark Sky Park conference is a fantastic opportunity to highlight the success of this collaborative project. Partnership and collaboration is at the heart of Scottish tourism and VisitScotland works with local industry to develop and deliver innovative initiatives that grow the visitor economy.”

Mark Gibson from the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory said: “We were delighted to welcome Lord Thurso for a tour of the Scottish Dark Sky Park Observatory. The European Dark Sky Place conference is an excellent opportunity to promote the success of the Dark Sky Park and share our knowledge and experience with a worldwide audience.”