Storm Gertrude levels trees at famed beauty spot Dark Hedges
The beech trees made famous by Game of Thrones have fallen victim to .
The Dark Hedges, near Stranocum in Co Antrim, were hit by gale-force winds on Thursday night, with two trees uprooted.
Mervyn Storey MLA, who chairs the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust, said nothing could have been done to save them.
"It was a very severe storm and it's always a challenge that we have with these trees, given their age," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"It's difficult to ensure when a storm of this magnitude arrives that they stay upright. Most years we would lose at least one of the trees. It's difficult in terms of the management of what is left.
"We've had tree surgeons look at them on different occasions, but it gets to the stage where there's only a certain amount you can do. They have a natural life and some people would say these trees have gone beyond that."
He also dismissed claims that heavy traffic damaging the verges of the country road had weakened the roots of the trees but admitted: "I would share concerns in relation not to the traffic on the road but the traffic that parks inappropriately on the roadside. It's regrettable that there are people who continually park on the verge instead of using the car parking facilities available at the Hedges restaurant."
The avenue of beech trees was planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century as a stunning lead-up to the then Gracehill House. They came under threat a few years ago when the Roads Service proposed to fell many of them for safety reasons. But the avenue was taken over by the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust and is now the subject of a Heritage Lottery Fund project to protect it.
Patrick Cregg, director of the Woodland Trust NI, which is working with the group to protect the trees, said they were surveyed a year ago as a safety measure.
"On the basis of that survey we commissioned some tree surgery work which was completed last year," he added. "Unfortunately, when you get a storm like last night, trees are vulnerable, particularly beech trees. They wouldn't be as long-lived as oaks. Beech trees have 200 or 300 years and that is it. Everything was done in terms of surveys and remedial work. It's just one of those things."
He also dismissed fears heavy traffic was damaging the tress, saying: "The roots will go down quite a bit to secure that volume of timber they are supporting."
A spokesman for TransportNI (TNI) said he was aware the attraction had increased in popularity and that there were concerns around this. "Whilst TNI has no direct maintenance responsibility for the trees, we plan to continue to maintain the verges in line with road maintenance safety standards until a longer term solution can be found," he said.
"We are also in discussions with a number of stakeholders including local politicians, the local council and other key stakeholders in relation to traffic management issues at this site."