Star Wars: Unesco asks for report on Skellig Michael shoot

Skellig Michael Image copyright Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Image caption Production crews prepare Skellig Michael for Star Wars Episode VII filming

Unesco, the international culture and heritage agency, has asked the Irish government for a report on the use of an island for a Star Wars film.

Parts of Star Wars Episode VII are being filmed on Skellig Michael.

The Unesco World Heritage Site is home to puffins, manx shearwaters, storm petrels, guillemots and kittiwakes.

Roni Amelan, of Unesco headquarters in Paris, said they want information about the preservation of the site and particularly any impact on wildlife.

"We can't speculate what the filming of Star Wars on the site will do to the wildlife," he said.

"We just know that this is going on and we have asked for information."

Unesco - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation - has 195 member states and nine associate members.

A two-mile exclusion zone - patrolled by an Irish Navy vessel - has been declared around Skellig Michael.

Filming on the island - a former monastic settlement - has been brought forward several weeks, and conservationists say that threatens rare birds that are in the middle of their breeding season.

Stephen Newton, a seabirds expert with Birdwatch Ireland, said he could not get onto the island to check the important colony.

"This is totally inappropriate in terms of the timing," he said.

Mr Newton said he was asked by the film producers only days before shooting was to begin if he would help them with an impact assessment to secure permits for filming.

He refused, arguing it would take several weeks to assess, as many of the species breed underground or in rocky crevices where it would be difficult to see what damage is being done.

"I don't think there was enough assessment on the impact of this, you can't see what is going on," he said.

"The birds could desert the island if they get too stressed out, by the amount of noise and vibration."

The conservationist said the island has been "hijacked" for the shoot that is expected to last several days.

He has demanded that Heritage Minister Heather Humphreys publish the expert advice she received before signing off on the necessary consents for the use of Skellig Michael.

'Extensive scientific analysis'

The Irish Film Board, which helps international film producers locate in the Republic of Ireland, said consent was granted for a limited shoot on Skellig Michael after extensive scientific analysis by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

"That consent is subject to several agreed conditions and restrictions and is also the subject of a detailed management and mitigation plans and ecological oversight," a spokeswoman said.

"The filming programme has been designed specifically to avoid the disturbance of breeding birds on the island.

"The NPWS approved the proposal on that basis."

The film agency said experts are on the island during the shoot and have the authority to intervene if they suspect any impact on the habitat and wildlife.

"The production company also has a senior ecological advisor on set at all times," the spokeswoman added.

"Activity is confined to visitor areas and pathways."

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