An upcoming Harry Potter-themed event planned to take place in a wildlife sanctuary south of Melbourne has sparked controversy and backlash. The event, set to transform the area into a fictional wizarding world, is facing opposition from concerned citizens and environmental groups.
Over 20,000 people have signed a petition urging the Mornington Peninsula Shire council to relocate the event, citing the sanctuary’s importance as critical habitat for various endangered species, including the powerful owl, swift parrots, and growling grass frogs.
Despite expectations for it to be the largest event in the Mornington Peninsula’s history, with 3,000 attendees per night, concerns remain about the potential impact on local wildlife.
Gidja Walker, a local ecologist and president of the Southern Peninsula Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association, highlighted the irony of disrupting the habitat of species central to the Harry Potter series for an event inspired by the franchise.
“A lot of fans would be horrified to hear it is affecting the powerful owls,” Ms. Walker said.
Gidja Walker, an ecologist and president of the Southern Peninsula Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association, expressed concerns about the potential environmental impact of the Harry Potter-themed event on The Briars wildlife sanctuary in the Mornington Peninsula.
The sanctuary, covering 90 hectares of remnant habitat, is home to numerous endangered and critically endangered species.
Walker highlighted the ecosystem’s importance and the measures in place, such as electric fences, to protect it from invasive predators. She argued that the event’s infrastructure, including cabling, generators, and widened paths, could disrupt the sanctuary’s delicate balance.
Additionally, she criticized the council for potentially breaching its own planning scheme and suggested that holding the event elsewhere within The Briars, away from environmentally sensitive areas, would be more appropriate.
“There is a community forest full of European trees that is more suited to the theme,” Ms. Walker said.
Shannon Meilak, the founder of Melbourne’s first Harry Potter fan club, expressed disappointment upon learning that the Harry Potter Forbidden Forest Experience would take place in a sensitive location.
Meilak, who purchased tickets without knowing the event’s location, stated that she would boycott the event if it remained in its current location.
“If they don’t move the show to a more appropriate location I’ll be demanding a refund for my tickets and accommodation,” she told theHerald Sun.
“This show, which I have no doubt the council thought would be great for local tourism, could end up stopping people from ever visiting,”
Ms. Walker stated that the council’s actions had “radicalised” some locals.
“All they have to do is move it and get into it with community support,” she said.
“If they go ahead with this there will be people trying to stop them doing this all over the world. That won’t look good.”
The Mornington Peninsula Shire Council acknowledged the presence of powerful owls in the area designated for the Harry Potter Forbidden Forest Experience. However, they noted that the closest owl nest was located 300 meters away from the event’s boundary.
“That powerful owl flies around a big area, it takes in quite a wide territory,” Ms. Walker said.
“It is its hunting grounds. It’s not just a dot on the map,”
A community meeting was held last week, organized by Save Briars Sanctuary, a group opposing the Harry Potter Forbidden Forest Experience, with over 200 attendees, including Shire Mayor Simon Brooks. The group urged the council to relocate the event away from the fenced wildlife sanctuary.
The council has faced criticism for its management of the event, with reports of councillors being required to sign non-disclosure agreements and the council releasing a public announcement about the event shortly before tickets went on sale.
Additionally, the council plans to release environmental impact statements after the event rather than before. As of now, the Mornington Peninsula Shire council has not responded to requests for comment.