THE night sky above a North Yorkshire forest is among the best in the country for stargazing.

The starry skies above Dalby Forest in Ryedale have earned official recognition from the UK Dark Sky Discovery Network, which has named it a Dark Sky Discovery Site.

The 8,600-acre woodland, near Pickering, has been named as a “Milky Way” class venue for stargazers – the top rating – because of its lack of light pollution and commitment to popularising astronomy.

Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society campaigned for the prestigious award with support from the Forestry Commission and it is only the third Dark Sky Discovery Site launched in Yorkshire and one of a handful in England.

Tanya Rex, from the Forestry Commission, said: “Our relationship with the astronomers goes back over two decades, during which time thousands of people have been able to discover the magnificent starry skies we have here in the North York Moors. Dalby is a truly beautiful place by night and day and the stars can look staggering on a clear night.”

The UK Dark Sky Discovery Network is a network of national and local astronomy and environmental organisations. Members include the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, The Institute of Physics, British Astronomical Association and Campaign for Dark Skies. The late Sir Patrick Moore opened the first observatory in Dalby Forest in 2001, which was eventually replaced by the existing purpose-built astronomical domes in front of the new visitor centre. Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society run monthly stargazing events in the forest and stage one of the UK’s biggest star camps, Starfest, every August.

Society secretary Andy Exton said: “This will really help put us on the map and it is welcome recognition of the quality of our night skies. We get visitors coming from across the north to stargaze in Dalby at our monthly nightwatches and this news will help us draw even more people.”

John Harper, honorary life president and founder of Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society, said: “Light pollution means that many people cannot see the Milky Way from their doorsteps, which makes places like Dalby very important and needing protection.”

The announcement comes as the BBC’s Stargazing Live programme returns to the Yorkshire Museum and Museum Gardens tonight. The free event, one of a number being held up and down the country, will run from 5.30pm to 9pm.

Timed tickets for the York Observatory have sold out, but people can come along and join in with the other events.

The BBC Stargazing Live programme, featuring Professor Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain, is being shown on BBC 2 all week.