‘Climate change making steep Skellig slopes more vulnerable’

Opinion: The Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht has initiated a public consultation for the new Skellig Michael World Heritage Site Management Plan 2019-2029 to replace the 2008-2018 plan. This is the submission from An Taisce, a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland’s natural and built heritageldest and largest environmental organisations

THE combination of climate change, the impact of a 50 per cent increase in annual visitors since adoption of the 2008 Skellig Michael World Heritage Site Management Plan, the protection of bird life and appropriate tourism promotion and management are overarching considerations for the decade ahead.

Valerie O’Sullivan’s photograph of Skellig Michael, the location of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Kerry island pinnacle is one of the iconic images of Ireland and one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the State, the other being the Boyne Valley passage tomb complex.

The review of the 2008 Management Plan gives the opportunity to provide enhanced consideration of the international significance of Skellig. The basis on which UNESCO designated the island as a World Heritage Site was its part in the spread of Christian monasticism across Europe, North Africa and the near East. The consultation call by Heritage Minister, Josepha Madigan, appropriately highlighted the spiritual significance of the State owned island.

Parallel to this, the Skellig is an internationally important reserve for sea birds, including ground nesting puffins, Manx shearwaters and storm petrels, scheduled under EU species and habitats protection.

Since the adoption of the 2008 plan new issues and challenges have emerged:

  • Visitor demand has created a 50% increase in annual footfall numbers to 16,700 in 2017 and 20I8, compared to the previous decade average of 11,100. The 2008 plan was formulated on the basis that approximately 11,100 was the appropriate annual number of visitors compatible with the conservation of the site.
  • Climate change is making the steep slopes of the island more vulnerable to soil erosion through increased frequency and severity of Atlantic storms.
  • The rising impact of commercial overfishing and ocean acidification is destabilising the global marine eco system, including the feeding source for birds.
  • The impact of commercial filming, which was not provided for in the 2008 plan, on both the conservation of the island, and changing its image in the collective consciousness.
  • The lack of regulation of the increased level of helicopter tours and diesel polluting boats circling the island, and use of drones.
Members of the pubic make their way along the rock climb

The An Taisce submission recommends a full performance review of the 2008 Skellig World Heritage Site Plan including on monitoring and modelling of climate change impact, the conservation of the monastery, hermitage, steps and associated features and the maintenance of bird population plant ecology and marine mammals.

Other considerations include visitor impact, safety and capacity and promotion and marketing.

An overarching consideration the updated plan for the Skellig should recognise that this is a globally iconic place which needs to be respected, cherished and held in trust for the future, over any considerations of commercialisation.

The next stage of the process will be publication of a 2019-2029 Draft Plan which will require screening for Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Appropriate Assessment under the EU Habitats Directive, with full public consultation provision put in place.

¬©¬†KillarneyToday.com is the online news service provided by O’Mahony Media
Advertise to boost your business: Over 300,000 views every month. Over 20,000 followers on Facebook. Call 087-2229761