Concerns raised over impact of safety measures on Skellig Michael on birds and wildlife

Birdwatch Ireland has expressed concern about the potential impacts of safety measures being taken on Skellig Michael, following last week’s rockfall which led to the temporary closure of the Unesco world heritage site.

The independent bird conservation organization said it had not been consulted to date about “sweeping operations” on Skellig Michael, designed to remove any loose rock material.

Birdwatch Ireland says it is concerned about the negative impact of such “sweeping” on sensitive nesting birds on the island, lying 12km west of the Kerry coast.

The sixth-century monastic site is an internationally important habitat for seabirds and is home to some of the largest breeding populations of Manx shearwater and storm petrel in the world. Its high cliffs and ledges also support nesting sites for puffins, fulmars, kittiwakes and guillemots.

The Office of Public Works (OPW) said on June 13 that it was closing the island temporarily to visitors, due to a “minor rockfall event” at around 1pm that day. No effect occurred.

It said an OPW works crew, accompanied by specialist contractors, would visit the island this week to carry out this work “with a view to re-opening the island to visitors as soon as possible”.

Sweeping operation

However, BirdWatch Ireland spokesman Niall Hatch said it had not been consulted about the “sweeping operations” planned by the OPW to make the island safe for visitors.

“Once we learned of what was being proposed, my colleague Oonagh Duggan, who is our head of policy and advocacy, wrote to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) on June 15 to raise our concerns about the potential impacts of the sweeping on the sensitive nesting birds on the island.

He said Ms Duggan specifically requested “details of the safeguards that are being put in place to protect breeding birds at and around the site of the rockfall and to ensure that legal protections for the nesting birds are guaranteed”.

“She also stressed that, despite the undoubted significant pressure for OPW to open the island back up for visitors, it is vitally important that the legal protections for the breeding birds under the Wildlife Acts and the EU Birds Directive are adhered to,” Mr Hatch said.

He said the organization was informed that evening that the NPWS was “seeking further information from the OPW with regard to their proposed plans”, and it hoped to revert with more detail in the near future.

“We have not received any further communications from either NPWS or OPW about this matter since then,” Mr Hatch said.

The Department of Housing said its NPWS staff were working closely with OPW staff and contractors in “monitoring the situation”, and said “they have been consulted at all stages”.


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