The skies above Sussex could be given international recognition to try to keep them clear and dark at night.

South Downs National Park Authority plans to apply to the International Dark Sky Association (IDSA), a US-based non-profit organisation fighting to preserve the night, for Dark Sky designation to try to control light pollution.

Around 100 stargazers counted how many stars they could see in the Orion constellation above the national park as part of the plan.

The results of Star Count 2013, organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the British Astronomical Association’s Campaign for Dark Skies, are due out shortly, when the Sussex count will be used as evidence about the quality of the night skies above the national park, which covers 1,600 square kilometres.

It is one of four places in Britain planning to apply for Dark Sky status.

The Brecon Beacons in Wales and Exmoor National Park are two of only five Dark Sky reserves in the world.

Those areas that get the designation are supported by the IDSA in ways to prevent light pollution from damaging the view, such as by bringing in bans on development.

In the Sussex skies, highlights of the Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy and the Orion Nebula are visible.

Campaigners say their initial measurements of sky quality above the national park are “favourable” and consistent with attaining a bronze level standard of an International Dark Sky Reserve.

Orange glow

Officials said the proposals are at a very early stage and could take up to five years.

Joanna Glyde of the national park authority said: “This is a big challenge. There are many stringent requirements and with the number of residents dispersed across the Downs, this makes the task that much more difficult.”

Dan Oakley, a park ranger and amateur astronomer who took part in the star count, said: “With the national park sitting in the middle of the most populous part of the country, most of us will be used to seeing the orange glow of light pollution and may not even realise the rich landscape of stars hidden above us.”

Emma Marrington, the CPRE’s dark skies campaigner, said: “We want to use this evidence to convince ministers and local councils of the need to control light pollution.”

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