Skel­lig num­bers ‘not sus­tain­able’

Irish Examiner - - News - Anne Lucey

Vis­i­tor num­bers to Skel­lig Michael are more than one and a half times what is thought to be en­vi­ron­men­tally safe.

Vis­i­tor num­bers to the Skel­lig Michael Unesco World Her­itage site off the Kerry coast are now more than one and a half times what is con­sid­ered en­vi­ron­men­tally safe.

Fig­ures re­leased by the Of­fice of Pub­lic Works (OPW) show 16,792 land­ings onto the craggy, but frag­ile, is­land and its dry­s­tone sixth-cen­tury monas­tic site in 2018.

This is just 37 more than in 2017. How­ever, it is sub­stan­tially more than the 11,100 fig­ure the out­go­ing 10-year man­age­ment plan con­sid­ers the “sus­tain­able” num­ber of vis­i­tors for the is­land.

The spike in the num­ber of vis­i­tors is at­trib­uted to the pop­u­lar­ity of Star Wars and the pub­lic­ity sur­round­ing the se­lec­tion of the is­land, in­clud­ing by Tourism Ire­land.

Unesco placed Skel­lig Michael on the World Her­itage List in recog­ni­tion of its out­stand­ing uni­ver­sal value in 1996. It is also one of Ire­land’s most im­por­tant sites for breed­ing seabirds both in terms of size of colonies and di­ver­sity of species, ac­cord­ing to the OPW which has re­cently an­nounced a con­sul­ta­tion process for a new 10year man­age­ment plan for the is­land.

In the years prior to Star Wars, which was filmed in 2014 and 2015, av­er­age an­nual vis­i­tor num­bers were at or around 12,000.

Even then vis­i­tor num­bers were slightly in ex­cess of what they should be, ac­cord- ing to Charles Stan­ley Smith of An Taisce and a spokesman for the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pil­lar group of con­ser­va­tion bod­ies which has ex­pressed about the vis­i­tor num­bers and the con­sul­ta­tion process for a new man­age­ment plan for the is­land.

He re­it­er­ated con­cerns put in writ­ing to then her­itage min­is­ter Heather Humphreys ob­ject­ing to the film­ing of Star Wars on the is­land in the first place.

“The fragility of the his­toric re­mains can­not be overem­pha­sised,” said An Taisce.

“None of it was ever in­tended for the hu­man num­bers and the lev­els of ac­tiv­ity al­ready oc­cur­ring dur­ing the sum­mer sea­son.

“The suc­cess of Star Wars is largely pos­i­tive in terms of lo­cal tourism but in terms of vis­i­tor num­bers is putting un­due strain on Skel­lig Michael as a lead­ing Ir­ish Unesco site and on the is­land’s birds habi­tats,” said Mr Stan­ley Smith.

An Taisce would ob­ject to any fur­ther in­crease in land-con­cern ings and in­stead would look for im­prove­ments of Skel­lig-re­lated tourism projects on the main­land, he added.

Mr Stan­ley Smith said he was hope­ful the con­sul­ta­tion pe­riod up to Jan­uary 18 on the new man­age­ment plan an­nounced be­fore Christ­mas would be ex­tended.

“De­spite the clear im­por­tance of fur­ther de­bate on this is­sue, the Gov­ern­ment de­cided that it was best to sneak in a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion at the end of De­cem­ber.”

It looks likely that the dead­line will be ex­tended to Fe­bru­ary. How­ever, Mr Stan­ley Smith said the draft plan should be pub­lished and fur­ther sub­mis­sions in­vited be­fore it is sub­mit­ted to Unesco.

Pic­ture: Va­lerie O’Sul­li­van

There were 16,792 land­ings on Skel­lig Michael last year, far in ex­cess of the 11,100 con­sid­ered sus­tain­able.

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