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Could Star Wars cost Skellig Michael its Unesco World Heritage status?

The film begins shooting today, but will Jedi knights ruin a heritage site?

Skellig Michael
Skellig Michael
Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

FILMING BEGINS TODAY on scenes from the new Star Wars film on Skellig Michael off the coast of Kerry.

However, concerns have been raised about the potential impact that the film crews will have on the site, with Birdwatch Ireland particularly concerned that the filming is coming in the middle of breeding season for puffins and other birds.

The Unesco World Heritage Centre has confirmed to TheJournal.ie that it has asked for information on the granting of filming rights at the sixth century monastic site, but a spokesperson said that they could not speculate what would happen.

Roni Amelan, a spokesperson for the World Heritage Centre, told TheJournal.ie that the lightsabers and droids may cause damage, but that doesn’t automatically mean a loss of Skellig Michael’s status.

“The issue not with filming, it’s with what effect that filming will have.

“We can speculate but don’t know yet. If you look at the site and the features for which it was inscribed, you have to look at the effect it will have.

We are specific that properties on the list are there for specific features, but all sites are vulnerable. You often have damage to a site, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be taken off the list.

“It’s very rare that a pristine site will be inscribed.

“It’s about getting all of the information.”

In the original decision, the committee outlined why Skellig Michael was chosen and no mention of wildlife or scenery is made.

The Committee decided to inscribe the nominated property on the basis of cultural criteria (iii) and (iv) considering that the site is of outstanding universal value being an exceptional, and in many respects unique example of an early religious settlement deliberately sited on a pyramidal rock in the ocean, preserved because of a remarkable environment. It illustrates, as no other site can, the extremes of a Christian monasticism characterizing much of North Africa, the Near East and Europe.

Only two sites have ever been removed from the Unesco World Heritage List; the first a sanctuary for oryx (a type of antelope) in Oman, the second the Dresden Elbe Valley.

In the Oman case, the size of the sanctuary was decreased by 90%, meaning that the oryx were forced to live in captivity. In Dresden, the construction of a four-lane road bridge was found to have altered the valley sufficiently to warrant its removal from the list.

In both cases, Amelan says, the sites were “fundamentally changed”.

Read: Star Wars filming begins on Skellig Michael as exciting footage emerges

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