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A memorial to Dobby can stay on a Welsh beach, but fans have to stop leaving socks

For years, Harry Potter fans have paid their respects to the franchise's beloved house elf Dobby by leaving tributes at the Welsh beach where his movie death was filmed.

As a result, that infamous stretch of Freshwater West Beach in Pembrokeshire has become a depository for trinkets, painted rocks and all sorts of socks.

A quick recap for non-Potterheads: House elves can only be freed when their master gives them an article of clothing, and early in the series Potter helps Dobby by tricking his evil master into handing him a book with a sock between its pages (cue the iconic scene: "Master has given Dobby a sock ... Dobby is free").

Dobby's ensuing loyal friendship with Potter takes a haunting turn in the final book (and penultimate movie) when the elf is killed while shielding him from a Death Eater's knife — and buried on the beach with a headstone reading "Here lies Dobby, a Free Elf." His death so devastated fans that author J.K. Rowling apologized for it in 2018.

So devotees as well as locals had strong opinions back in May, when the U.K. conservation organization National Trust released a survey asking for opinions on whether the memorial should remain on the beach.

It was part of a broader questionnaire soliciting public input on sustainability initiatives for the beach, which is a legally protected conservation area and increasingly popular tourist attraction (both for its connection to movies like Harry Potter and 2010's Robin Hood, as well as its great surfing).

The proposal to relocate the gravesite to a "suitable publicly accessible location" elicited mixed responses at the time, with some people saying it would be pointless to move the memorial and others questioning the need for having one for a fictional character at all.

National Trust Cymru ("Wales" in Welsh) announced its decision in a press release last week: The memorial can stay, for now, with one important caveat.

"Based on the consultation results, the memorial to Dobby will remain at Freshwater West in the immediate term for people to enjoy," said Jonathan Hughes, National Trust Cymru's assistant director of operations for South Wales. "The Trust is asking visitors to only take photos when visiting the memorial to help protect the wider landscape. Items like socks, trinkets, and paint chips from painted pebbles could enter the marine environment and food chain and put wildlife at risk."

Keeping the magic — and the real-life creatures — alive

Freshwater West is part of a legally protected conservation area that's home to many creatures, including lizards, orchids, seabirds, rare ground-nesting birds, gray seals and harbor porpoises.

It's also a popular destination for humans. Hughes says its parking area welcomes some 75,000 people each year, and visitor numbers regularly exceed capacity.

"While we're delighted that so many want to visit, we have to balance the popularity of the site with impacts on the sensitive nature of the beach and wider environment, and pressure on the facilities and surrounding roads," he explains.

National Trust Cymru says almost 5,000 people filled out two online surveys, and also attended in-person events and discussions. Their feedback has helped inform key priorities, with the most popular proposals focused on improving car parking arrangements and visitor facilities.

The proposal also says that management of Dobby's grave "requires further liaison between relevant stakeholders to reach a 'middle-ground' which allows access but provides a more sensitive solution for the local environment." It suggests involving one or more local charities or groups in overseeing the site.

The charity will now get to work on an action plan, subject to permission and funding, for specific next steps. And it says nothing — not even the memorial — is set in stone.

"Sand dune habitats constantly change and shift, and so the situation will be reviewed as work continues towards a long-term plan for managing the site, and the whole of Freshwater West," it concludes.

There are early signs that Potter fans will cooperate with the request to "leave no trace."

The official Wizarding World Instagram account announced the request Wednesday in a post, which saw many commenters voicing their agreement. Some even suggested other ways to help, like donating socks to people in need or supporting conservation efforts in Dobby's name.

One commenter summed it up this way: "Don't kill real creatures to memorialize an imaginary one."

Copyright 2024 NPR

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.