Astronomer outrage at boozy bothy plan for Highland Dark Sky Park

The Astronomer Royal for Scotland has blasted proposals by a global whisky company to build an alcohol-based “24/7” visitor centre in the midst of the world’s most northerly gold-tier status International Dark Sky Park in the Cairngorms.

Dark skies are a rare and important natural resource.

Professor John Brown, the tenth Astronomer Royal for Scotland, says he feels “obliged to encourage people to express strong opposition” to the plans by Chivas Brothers, whose brands include The Glenlivet and Chivas Regal.

The firm wants to build a new tasting lodge and bothy experience, with separate overnight accommodation, in the darkest part of the International Dark Sky Park in Tomintoul and Glenlivet, which opened last November.

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The planning application submitted last month has attracted strong criticism and has been called in by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA).

Concerns have been expressed about light pollution, traffic and disruption at the site.

The public have until this Monday to submit comments before a final decision is made.

The Arizona-based International Dark Sky Association awarded the gold status after being assured there was no habitation, or likely to be habitation, at the darkest part of the Dark Sky Park. Prof Brown, who performed the International Dark Sky Park official opening ceremony, said: “I’ve written to Chivas telling them that when I first heard of the proposal I had hoped it was a hoax. When I found out otherwise, I was horrified and frankly furious. I’ve told them I think what they are proposing is a blasphemous misuse of a public site and will bring them very bad press.

“I am greatly puzzled because in the past Chivas supported the idea of the Dark Sky Park, but now seem to want to use if for their own purposes.”

In his letter to Chivas Brothers, Prof Brown wrote: “I for one feel personally and duty bound to raise the alarm as widely and as soon as I can.”

He said the proposals “hardly outperform anything maliciously aimed at wrecking that uniquely magnificent natural area and the aspirations of the countless people globally who support it, many of similar standing to myself”.

Prof Brown also advised the company he would be willing to help them find a more suitable site elsewhere in Scotland.

Sam Robinson, secretary of the Cairngorms Astronomy Group, said: “We spent four years working to get the Dark Sky Park status, compiling a lighting management plan and now this happens.

“Local people only found out about the proposals last month. Chivas hadn’t appeared to have told anyone about it.

“This is a unique place. You can go out your door and see a truly dark sky. The Ladder Hills surrounding the park and Cromdale to the north forms a barrier to light pollution.

“There’s nothing like going outside and seeing the Milky Way blazing overhead.”

A CPNA spokeswoman said: “We are unable to give a comment as this is a live planning application.”

A Chivas Brothers spokesman said: “We are aware of some comments from local residents regarding our planning application for a tasting bothy near The Glenlivet Distillery. We take any concerns voiced by our neighbours and the Dark Sky community very seriously and we will be looking at the planning application to address these issues where possible.”