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Stargazing at the ‘dark sky discovery site’ on Butser Hill

Butser provides an excellent location to observe the cosmos this winter. Image: Juan Martinez
Butser provides an excellent location to observe the cosmos this winter. Image: Juan Martinez

Butser Hill, part of Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield, has long been enjoyed by visitors for its rolling landscapes and panoramic vistas.

However, there's more to discover about this stunning spot than might meet the daytime eye. Forming part of the South Downs National Park, Butser is officially designated a ‘dark sky discovery site’, recognised for the celestial spectacle that is on offer, which makes it a hotspot for stargazing in Hampshire.

On a nocturnal visit to Butser Hill, you are greeted with a sweeping expanse of untouched natural beauty that enjoys minimal light pollution. Standing at 271 meters tall, it is the highest point in the county, and its elevation provides an excellent location to observe the cosmos especially during the clear, crisp winter months.

From the peak of the summit, you can see a dazzling array of stars, planets, and constellations dotted across the night sky (as well as twinkling urban features on the horizon). You don’t have to be a seasoned star-spotter – it’s as simple as looking up. A pair of binoculars or a telescope can add to the experience, but the naked eye will also reveal the wonders of the universe.

Great British Life: Butser Hill is officially a dark sky discovery site. Image: Alvin VassoodavenButser Hill is officially a dark sky discovery site. Image: Alvin Vassoodaven

There are lots of free apps that can guide your intergalactic explorations, although try using a red filter over the phone to keep your vision adjusted to the dark. The moon has a big impact of visibility so think about planning your trip on a night when there is no bright moon, or cloud cover. A naturally inky sky is also great for nature on our home planet, as it helps wildlife that relies on darkness for their safety and survival.

If you venture out to Butser this winter, listen out for the tawny owls that make a home in the surrounding woodlands, and look out for red deer on an evening wander. Plan your trip to Butser Hill by visiting our website at www.hants.gov.uk/thingstodo/countryparks/qecp/discover.

Don’t forget to bring a torch to find your way to and from your starting point. We also recommend extra layers and telling someone where you are going, even if part of a group. There are multiple places across our county that are stargazing destinations mostly located in the South Downs and New Forest areas, including Old Winchester Hill and Iping Common. You can also find organised stargazing events. Visit www.gostargazing.co.uk for more information.

About the author

Tim Speller is a Countryside Parks Business Manager with Hampshire County Council’s Countryside Service. The team looks after many of Hampshire’s major country parks and National Nature Reserves, as well as some heritage monuments, local recreational spaces, and large areas of common land. It also manages Hampshire’s 3,000 miles of public rights of way.  



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