Drivers face Game of Thrones Dark Hedges car ban
Council ponders banning cars from beauty spot to protect tourism attraction
Tourists flocking to a world famous natural landmark in County Antrim - the Dark Hedges - may soon be banned from driving through the tunnel of trees.
Closing the road to traffic is an option being looked at in a bid to make the visitor experience more rewarding and also to stop damage to the trees by vehicles cutting up verges on the narrow Bregagh Road near Armoy.
The beauty spot is one of the most photographed in Northern Ireland and since the trees featured in the hit TV series Game of Thrones there has been a dramatic rise in visitor numbers.
Some fear the level of access is damaging the trees and now councillors at Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, which covers the area, have been told about efforts to ensure the landmark is protected but at the same time accessible to visitors.
One option is closing the road and allowing visitors to park nearby.
In a report to councillors, the council's Head of Tourism and Recreation, Peter Thompson, said in response to concerns meetings are being held in a bid to have "improved and safer access".
He said one option would be asking Transport NI to close the road and another is the provision of alternative access to the trees by putting in a footpath in a field beside the Dark Hedges.
He said a road closure could take up to a year and a half.
Mr Thompson said an overall integrated site management plan is required, which will include parking capacity, pedestrian access, day-to-day site management and a regular maintenance plan for road, verges and pathway.
He added that site sensitivities need to be respected and from a natural habitat and biodiversity point of view, the rural, unspoiled landscape should be enhanced and the experience preserved and shaped to meet visitors' expectations.
The council is to continue to investigate the best options for the future of the Dark Hedges site and will report back to councillors with recommendations for a management approach.
DUP councillor Alan McLean said he was happy steps are being taken to improve the situation, but hoped any changes will not alter the character of the trees.
His DUP colleague Ian Stevenson said a road closure could pose problems for farmers.
Recently there was controversy when roads chiefs altered the look of the Dark Hedges by mistakenly putting white lines in the middle of the Bregagh Road - but after uproar the lines were removed.