\"Archaeologist

Archaeologist fear for “fragile” UNESCO protected environment of Skellig Michael after "Star Wars" descends. Photo by: Tourism Ireland

Experts raise concerns over filming of “Star Wars” on Kerry island

\"Archaeologist

Archaeologist fear for “fragile” UNESCO protected environment of Skellig Michael after "Star Wars" descends. Photo by: Tourism Ireland

A leading archaeologist has told of her fears for the "fragile" environment of Skellig Michael, after the remote Irish island was used as a location for filming the latest "Star Wars" movie.

The protected island, which lies almost 7.5 miles off the west Kerry coast, was granted world heritage status by UNESCO in 1996.

But earlier this week the far-flung outcrop hit the headlines after it was taken over by the crew and cast of the upcoming "Star Wars" episode.

A 2 mile exclusion zone around the island, policed by an Irish Naval Service patrol ship, was set up to coincide with three days of filming up to last Wednesday.

But concerns have been raised that the island, which is home to a Christian monastery built as early as the 6th century, might have been left with permanent damage to its archaeology and rare wildlife.

The Irish Times reports that archaeologist and historian Dr. Niamh Whitfield was "astonished" that filming was given the green light on the steep isle – which rises more than 100 feet out of the Atlantic ocean – for the upcoming Episode VII movie.

Dr. Whitfield, one of the world's leading experts in early Christian art and archaeology, described the monastic site as "one of the most fragile, as well as most important" early medieval archaeological sites in western Europe, adding: "It is unique and, once damaged, is difficult to repair."

Dr. Whitfield said she would question what professional advice was sought beforehand and what professional guidance was given on location by conservation archaeologists.

She also pledged to find out whether a professional independent survey would be conducted to find out what impact filming has had on the site's wildlife and archaeology.

Similar fears have already been voiced by another leading archaeologist, Micheal Gibbons.

And Birdwatch Ireland senior conservation officer for seabirds, Dr. Steven Newton, said he was concerned that filming had taken place during the breeding season for birds.

In a statement to the Irish Times, the Irish Film Board stressed that consent for filming was given the green light after "extensive scientific analysis" by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

A spokesman added that the limited filming schedule was granted "subject to several agreed conditions and restrictions and is also the subject of a detailed management and mitigation plan and ecological oversight," which included the presence of experts from the NPWS on the island and a senior ecological adviser with the production company.

Meanwhile, excitement reached fever-pitch in west Kerry amongst film buffs and "Star Wars" fans this week after a number of well-known stars were spotted in the Kingdom.

Mark Hamill, now 62, who played Luke Skywalker in the original series, was barely recognizable when he arrived in Kerry earlier this week with a beard and greying hair.

And "Star Wars" director JJ Abrams was pictured outside the Butler Arms hotel in Waterville, Co. Kerry, where he stayed during filming.

Meanwhile, the cast and crew have relocated to Northern Ireland to begin filming on location.

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