Friday 31 October 2014

Fears for birds as 'Star Wars' starts shooting on Skellig

Published 28/07/2014 | 02:30

A wildlife organisation has raised concerns about the impact production crews filming for 'Star Wars' may have on the native birds on Skellig Michael.

Birdwatch Ireland said experts would have been happier if filming for the movie on the scenic Skellig Michael island off Co Kerry got under way in September, when the birds' breeding season was over.

However, it said any negative impact may be hard to assess as some of the breeding behaviour takes place underground.

The Irish Independent has learnt that when negotiations began over six months ago it was feared if news of the proposed filming leaked out it could attract opposition from conservation groups.

The island in the Atlantic about 12km off the coast of south Kerry was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 because of the ruins of its monastic settlement that dates back to the 6th Century.

It is also the natural habitat for bird species including the puffin, manx shearwaters and petrels and was designated a Special Protection Area under Article 4 of the EU Birds Directive.

This morning a film crew and workers employed to help out with the production are being transported to the island by local boatmen from Portmagee who have already received €1,000 each for projected loss of earnings from tourist trips during filming.

Historical

The filming for part of the JJ Abrams directed 'Star Wars: Episode VII' will be taking place today, tomorrow and Wednesday when Skellig Michael will be closed to the public.

Access to the island is strictly controlled by the Office of Public Works (OPW) in view of its historical and conservation status and each of the licenced 14 boats are only allowed land passengers once a day.

The season when the boats operate runs from May to September.

Last year, 13,221 people visited the island.

Dr Stephen Newton, senior seabird conservation officer with Birdwatch Ireland said the filming seems "a little bit inappropriate" due to the timing in the middle of breeding season.

"I would be quite happy if the filming took place out of the breeding season and I'm led to believe it was originally scheduled for September, which is a much better time of year to be doing this sort of thing," he told Radio Kerry.

"But it is very hard. Skellig is only open to the public really between May and some time in September but I would have preferred the filming to take place in September than in July when we have a lot of breeding birds still," he said.

Irish Independent

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