A TUNNEL of trees in Northern Ireland which found worldwide fame after featuring in Game of Thrones face an uncertain future due to their age and poor condition.
The trees, known as the Dark Hedges, are located on Bregagh Road, near Armoy in Co. Antrim.
They were one of many spots in Northern Ireland used as a filming location for the epic HBO series, with the atmospheric backdrop featuring as The Kings road.
They have since become a tourist hotspot, with fans of the television show coming from far and wide to view the trees in the flesh over the years.
Planted 250 years ago by the Stuart family, to line the entrance to Gracehill House, there were originally 150 trees at Dark Hedges.
However, only 86 trees remain today and their grand age means they are now in the twilight of their natural life cycle.
This week a report commissioned by the Department for Infrastructure into the condition of the Beech trees claimed 11 of them are in such bad condition, and pose such a risk to visitors, that they need to be removed.
The arboriculturist’s findings, which were presented at a meeting of the Causeway Coast and Glens Council on October 25, confirmed “the trees show many health and structural issues which are common in maturing Beech and occur naturally over time, with issues such as fungal colonies, decay, weak forks and storm damage to be expected”.
They add: “With the site being a popular tourist attraction, as well as used by local traffic, there is concern over the potential of tree failure and risk of harm in relation to a number of identified trees.”
The report identified 11 trees in total that are in “poor condition with a current risk to the public that require removal”.
Six of those trees are under tree preservation orders (TPOs) and the remaining five are not.
Any tree that is the subject of a TPO will require local council approval in order to be removed.
It will also need to be replaced with a new Beech tree at the time if it’s removal according to TPO regulations.
Following the meeting, council chiefs have now decided that one tree will be removed from the Dark Hedges.
In a statement Causeway Coast and Glens Council confirmed that it has "resolved to agree to the felling of one” tree out of six which are under Tree Protection Orders.
The Council claims it adds that it will engage in “further discussion on mitigation works to other trees".
Campaigner Bob McCallion, of the Save the Dark Hedges group, claims the Council’s decision does not go far enough to preserve the future of the Northern Irish beauty spot.
“A Tree Preservation Order (TPO) was placed on many of the trees at the Dark Hedges in 2004,” he said.
“As expected, 18 years later, a long overdue survey in Oct 2022 by DfI recommended removal of 11 trees, 6 of them having a TPO.
“Yet Council approved removal of only 1 TPO tree. “Here in 2023, one year of inaction after the survey, we are again getting bogged down by red tape - this also applies to regular 'dead-wooding' which stopped in 2016 and poses an even bigger threat to life, considering the high concentration of visitors that gather on Bregagh Rd.
“Tourism continues to take precedence over public safety at the Dark Hedges.”
As the Dark Hedges trees are within private ownership, the responsibility for
their management and protection ultimately lies with the landowners.
The Dark Hedges Preservation Trust was set up in 2009 and, in partnership with the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust and other stakeholders, to “actively preserve and enhance the trees”.
This has included previous remedial works and repruning works carried out to the trees in 2014.
In 2017, the DFI published a Banning Order on cars, buses and coaches using a designated stretch of Bregagh Road to address the traffic impact caused by tourist related traffic on the trees.