There are only two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ireland, Newgrange and Skellig Michael, and recent events at the latter, which have made international headlines, would seemingly show the contempt with which this status is held by the Government. Despite objections from NPWS and BirdWatch Ireland, permission was given for three days filming on one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, and one of the largest and most important seabird colonies in Western Europe. Filming took place from 28th to 30th July. Yes, some species would have finished breeding and dispersed out to sea, but Storm Petrels, Manx Shearwaters and others such as Kittiwake and some auks were still present as the film crew and all their heavy equipment arrived on site.
As evidenced by the video below, two helicopters persistently circling the island at close range must have caused chaos amongst the seabirds, and some accounts are emerging of seabird chicks being blown off ledges by helicopter activity.
With heavy-handed security even on the adjacent mainland, there would seem to have been a real lack of monitoring of the effects of all this on Skellig Michael's seabirds. Persistent loud noise in and around nest sites is a sure fire recipe for abandonment of nests, but was anyone even allowed onto the island to supervise this? Seems not.
It seems utterly shameful that our World Heritage site, and one of the largest and most important seabird colonies in Europe, can be treated with such disdain by the authorities.
Video showing activities around Skellig Michael during Star Wars filming (With grateful thanks to James Pembroke).
Another issue for the future is the inevitable added pressure which will be placed on the island by increased visitor numbers, not to mention, Star Wars fans. The island can only handle a certain number of visitors a year (e.g., 13,221 in 2013), and these numbers are currently limited, but if the filming of Star Wars on the island can be pushed through with such apparent ease, despite the objections of BirdWatch Ireland and others, who is to say that even more pressure won't be bought in the same way to increase visitor numbers, thus adding to the already considerable problems of erosion and disturbance which already exist.
And while on the subject of the Skelligs, here's another outrageous development... In their 'wisdom' OPW have permitted the pointing of some of the monastic structures on Skellig Michael. No doubt the trump card of 'Health and Safety' is being waved, but apart from looking horrific, how many Storm Petrel nests have just been concreted over. Is this really necessary?
Recent photo from Skellig Michael showing concreted monastic structures. Where will this stop?