Star Wars filming called off as Purbeck caves in danger of collapse

Disney bosses have cancelled a film shoot for the latest Star Wars series of Andor at Winspit Quarry near Worth Matravers in Dorset, after a safety report concluded the caves were in imminent danger of collapsing.

The crew started setting up its base at a field in nearby Acton on Friday 14th April 2023 but have now packed up and gone, and the landowner, the National Trust has closed the disused quarry on safety grounds.

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Winspit caves
Winspit caves

Photographed from a distance with a zoom lens, there’s evidence of cracks in the rock

Significant movement of the rock

Scenes in the first critically acclaimed Andor series for the Disney Channel, were filmed at the old quarry in May 2021, with the Purbeck limestone caves doubling as the Star Wars character Saw Gerrera’s headquarters.

Star Wars: Andor is a prequel to the blockbuster Star Wars movie Rogue One, following the character Cassian Andor, played by Mexican actor Diego Luna. He plays a thief who becomes a revolutionary and eventually joins the rebellion against the Empire.

Returning to the location two years later to film the second series, the geologist commissioned by Disney to ensure the safety of the crew, noticed there had been significant movement of the rock and new cracks had appeared in the roof of the caves.

Winspit caves
Star Wars Andor scene filmed at Winspit
Disney

Star attraction – the Winspit caves as they appear in the Andor series

Potential danger

Faced with the potential danger, the filming was called off and the National Trust closed off the quarry to all walkers and climbers from Thursday 20th April 2023.

It’s asking all visitors to follow the signs and keep out of the unsafe areas until further investigations have been undertaken.

Winspit caves

The green spots mark where new warning signs are to be installed

Winspit

The breathtaking beauty of the Purbeck coastline attracts lots of climbers and walkers

“We have commissioned a full survey of the quarry”

National Trust’s general manager for Purbeck, Tracey Churcher said:

“The coast and cliffs along this stretch of the Dorset Coast, including the quarry, can be unstable and naturally liable to landslips and falls – particularly after extreme weather including heavy rainfall and hot dry periods.

“We urge people to take the time to read warning signs and follow the instructions so they can enjoy the coast safely. People should always stay well back from the cliff and rock edges, whether on or below them, and we ask people not to visit Winspit Quarry until our experts are confident it is safe to visit again.

“People can still walk along the coast path and enjoy the normal circular walk from Worth Matravers. It is the quarry area itself that is closed to visitors.

“We have commissioned a full survey of the quarry to get a better understanding of the issues and will give an update when we know more about next steps.”

Winspit caves
Winspit caves

There’s plenty of evidence of cracks in the limestone rock which are excerbated by extremes in temperature and intense rainfall

“Please do not access or climb here”

Winspit Quarry is a popular location for rock climbing and the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) has been in liaison with the National Trust over the safety issues of the site. The BMC has issued a warning on its website to all climbers:

“The landowner has temporarily closed off access to the western part of the crag while they investigate reports of geological instability. They have stated that this closure is currently temporary and will be updating the BMC once the investigation has taken place.

“In the meantime, please do not access or climb here. The coastguard has indicated that given the potentially dangerous condition of the crag, they would not send in rescuers should an emergency arise whilst the closure is in place.”

Winspit caves

The old remains of the stone quarry buildings are still visible

Working stone quarry until about 1940

Winspit was the site of a working stone quarry until about 1940 and then during World War Two it was used as a site for naval and air defences.

In March 2022 it was bought by the National Trust, who already owned adjoining land. At the time of the purchase, a geological survey was undertaken of the safety of the site.

Due to the latest reports of the unsafe nature of the quarry, St Albans Coastguard, which covers this stretch of the coastline, is urging the public to take the safety warnings seriously.

Rescue of climbers at Winspit
Swanage Coastguard

In April 2021, St Albans Coastguard supported by the the team from Swanage were called to Winspit Quarry to go to the aid of two climbers with leg injuries who had fallen from the cliffs

“Safety has to be paramount”

St Albans station officer Ian Bugler, who has known the quarry for more than fifty years, told Swanage.News:

“The reports don’t surprise me – there is an awful lot of weight above the caves, which could cause them to collapse. The cliff face is unstable and rocks do come away with climbers attached – it does happen.

“The coastguard has to take its lead from the landowner and I have the responsibility for the safety of the rescue teams.

“If there’s an imminent danger of rockfall collapse, we have to be very careful about going to rescue anyone who has ignored the signs and shouldn’t be at the site. Safety has to be paramount.

“There needs to be adherence to the safety notices for the safety of everyone – the public and any rescue team. Nobody wants to be put in danger unnecessarily.”

Star Wars film crew prepare to leave
Amelia Coffen

The film crew packing up their gear to go home following the safety report

Star Wars crew unlikely to return anytime soon

The Star Wars film crew have now left Dorset and are unlikely to return to film at the quarry for the second season of Andor. It’s not known whether they will substitute other caves in the UK for the Winspit caves or will instead use computer generated imagery to create Saw Gerrera’s headquarters.

Star of the show, actor Diego Luna was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best actor in a television series drama for the part that he played in the first season of Star Wars: Andor which was aired in 2022.

The second season of 12 episodes started filming in November 2022 and is expected to continue until August 2023, with a release date in 2024.

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