A Harry Potter-themed event is facing a major backlash if it goes ahead with its controversial plan to turn an area of remnant forest into a fictional wizarding world.
From April, a fenced wildlife sanctuary south of Melbourne will be transformed into the magical world of Harry Potter, but not everyone is happy.
Over 20,000 people have signed a petition urging the Mornington Peninsula Shire council to relocate the Harry Potter Forbidden Forest Experience away from a wildlife sanctuary in The Briars at Mount Martha – critical habitat for Australia’s largest owl species – the powerful owl, swift parrots and growling grass frogs among other species.
The event is set to be the biggest event ever put on in the Mornington Peninsula, with 3,000 attendees expected per night.
Local ecologist and president of Southern Peninsula Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association Gidja Walker told news.com.au it was ironic that the “iconic” species at the heart of the series would be potentially impacted by the disturbances from the experience.
“A lot of fans would be horrified to hear it is affecting the powerful owls,” Ms Walker said.
She said the Mornington Peninsula was the most biodiverse area in the state and The Briars wildlife sanctuary was home to an important area of remnant forest that will be disturbed by cabling, generators and path widening for the interactive event.
The Briars Sanctuary consists of 90 hectares of “pristine” remnant habitat. It is home to many species of fauna and flora, some endangered, some critically endangered.
The electric fence protects the ecosystem from invasive predators such as foxes and feral cats.
Ms Walker is concerned the council has breached its own planning scheme, with extra environmental significance overlays in the sanctuary that don’t apply to the rest of The Briars — where she believes it would be more appropriate to hold the event.
“There is a community forest full of European trees that is more suited to the theme,” Ms Walker said.
Some Harry Potter fanatics aren’t impressed with the location either.
The founder of Melbourne’s first Harry Potter fan club – the third biggest globally – told The Herald Sun she had no idea the event was being held in such a “sensitive location” when she bought her tickets.
Brimbank resident Shannon Meilak said she would boycott if the show was not relocated.
“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 said the council’s actions had “radicalised” some residents.
“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 Shire Council confirmed it had recorded powerful owls on the site, but said the closest nest was located 300 metres from the boundary of the event.
“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,”
More than 200 people including shire mayor Simon Brooks attended a community meeting last week organised by Save Briars Sanctuary —a community group started in opposition to the event — calling for council to move the experience out of the fenced wildlife sanctuary.
The council has faced backlash for its handling of the event, with councillors reportedly forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement and council releasing a public announcement about the event just hours before tickets went on sale.
Council also said it would release environmental impact statements following the event, rather than before.
Mornington Peninsula Shire council was contacted for comment but did not respond by deadline.