Minister Humphreys confirms Star Wars to return to Sceilg Mhichíl
The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, has confirmed that she has granted consent for Lucasfilm to return to Sceilg Mhichíl for filming for the Star Wars franchise this month. Minister Humphreys has described the move as a significant boost for Ireland as an international film location. The proposal for filming was finalised at the end of last week, and comes at the end of months of close consultation between the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the film production company.
Strict environmental and ecological conditions are being put in place to ensure there is no negative impact on the UNESCO World Heritage Site and its birdlife. An ecologist and specialist staff from the Department’s National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the National Monuments Service will be present for the duration of the filming and will have the authority to stop or modify filming at any point, should any concerns arise.
Minister Humphreys said:
“Sceilg Mhichíl is one of our most dramatic and beautiful islands and it is very easy to understand why its stunning scenery has caught the attention of the makers of one of the world’s biggest film franchises. In considering Lucasfilm’s request to carry out limited filming on Sceilg Mhichíl this month, I have balanced the positive benefit it will reap for the Irish film industry and the South Kerry region with the need to ensure that the island’s unique environment and wildlife is fully protected.
“Specialist staff from my Department have been in discussions with Lucasfilm since March of this year in relation to a limited amount of filming, expected to last two to four days. Last year, I witnessed first-hand the stringent ecological and environmental safeguards and mitigation measures put in place by my Department, as well as by the OPW, to ensure that this wonderful UNESCO World Heritage site and its outstanding birdlife were fully protected during three days of filming. Specialist staff were on site last year to supervise the filming activity and were fully satisfied that there were no negative impacts on the island, its wildlife, habitat or built heritage. We are introducing further measures this year to ensure the environment is fully protected.
“Months of preparatory work have been undertaken, including a birds’ survey, which allowed for the collection of detailed site specific and up-to-date information on all island seabirds. My Department’s scientific staff have worked with Lucasfilm in recent months to ensure all necessary safeguards are put in place. This includes a highly detailed ecological and screening assessment of the proposed film work and stringent bio-security protocols.
“Based on the scientific evidence available to me, I am satisfied that what is being proposed by Lucasfilm will not adversely impact the integrity of the Special Protection Area (SPA) on Sceilg Mhichíl or on its biodiversity. Specialist staff, including an ecologist and personnel from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, will supervise the shoot and will have the authority to stop filming should any concerns arise.
“Those attempting to turn this into a negative story seem to be completely overlooking the fact that up to 180 people visit the island on any given day. In contrast, for the short duration of filming being proposed, peak activity levels will involve about 100 people, under strict supervision and with extensive ecological and biodiversity safeguards in place.
“The return of Star Wars to Sceilg Mhichíl is another win for Ireland and the Irish film industry, which is a growing and dynamic sector of our economy. Later this year, when the latest Stars Wars film is released, the incredible beauty of Sceilg Mhichíl will be brought to hundreds of millions of cinema goers across the world. This is a great example of how film-making can operate in harmony with environmental protection providing all necessary safeguards are in place, allowing us to showcase our unique cultural and heritage to a global audience.”
Note to Editors
Sceilg Mhichíl is a World Heritage Site, a National Monument, and Special Protection Area (SPA) for birdlife. As such, it enjoys the full range of legislative protections under the National Monuments Acts and the Birds and Habitats Directive.
Application for consent for filming:
Based on months of preparatory work undertaken, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht received a final application (accompanied by an ecological and screening assessment) from Lucasfilm late last week. The Department’s scientific staff had been consulted as the proposal was refined. Expert staff undertook a screening for appropriate assessment pursuant to the European Communities (Birds and Habitats) Regulations 2011.
Outline proposals and reports were subject to detailed review and comment by scientific and technical staff in the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). This included the Head of the Birds Unit; NPWS scientific staff; staff familiar with the island; the Divisional Manager for the Southern Division (an ornithologist; previously Head of Birds Unit). The National Monuments Service archaeological specialists were also involved, as necessary.
In 2014, similar filming work was undertaken on Sceilg Mhichíl (having obtained consent from the Department). The nature, extent and design of that film project is broadly, but not exactly similar, to that in the current application. A notable difference is that the work in 2014 was undertaken in July/August, whereas the 2015 request is for September. Ecologically, this is a fundamental difference, as several, of the breeding seabird species of the Skelligs have left the island or completed their breeding cycle by September.
The application is accompanied by a highly detailed ecological and screening assessment. It may be noted that that document not only addresses the SPA requirements, but considers other important biodiversity elements also. The Department asked the proposers to follow this ‘best-practice’ approach, and not limit their consideration solely to legal requirements.
The proposed project, its design, possible impacts and protection measures has been the subject of in-depth review by the Department in respect of both seabird and SPA interests (constituting inter alia a screening assessment), as well as other elements of biodiversity of the Islands.
The project involves limited out of season filming on Sceilg Mhichíl in specific and defined areas, and generally those areas are used by tourists. Filming will take place in the coming weeks. Preparatory work will take place the week before and removal work the week after.
Up to 100 persons may be involved at peak periods (up to 40 during preparatory/ demobilisation periods). This compares to current daily tourism visitors of about 180. Filming and other activities will take place during daylight hours, or at dusk on occasion.
The main protection measures being implemented include:
- Limiting the seasonal timing of the film project to September.
- Limiting the daily timing of the film/other activity so that there is no or very little overlap between filming and that of any remaining seabird species still engaged in breeding activity (species are nocturnal, so filming is during the day or at dusk).
- Stringent biosecurity.
- Confining the on the ground activities to limited and specified areas.
- Ensuring, that in the main, film activities are limited to areas usually frequented by tourists.
- Ensuring that the numbers of persons on the island will not exceed, and indeed will generally be less, than the normal tourist number using the island.
- Protocols for storage and movement of film crew and equipment.
- Identification, marking and avoidance of any sensitive areas at the specific location/habitat level;
- Protocols for storage or placing of equipment (e.g. specified distance from any potential nest sites in walls).
10. Protocols for waste and food.
11. Controls for dusk filming.
12. Controls for helicopter usage.
13. Controls for protection of lichens.
14. Presence of seabird surveyor (who has been monitoring birds on the island over the breeding season) – available to provide advice in relation to location, movements etc. of seabirds at the micro or island level.
15. Presence of a Supervising Ecologist – available for any detailed ecological checking, and with the authority to stop or modify any filming or other activity.
16. Presence of NPWS personnel, with the authority to stop or modify any filming or other activity
Employment opportunities/public costs:
The filming in 2014 employed over 70 people, primarily on mainland based supports and the incremental public costs incurred were recouped from the film makers last year.