Bid to ban traffic at Games of Thrones Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland
Plans to bar traffic from one of Northern Ireland's best known tourist attractions have moved a step closer.
The Department for Infrastructure has opened a consultation on controlling traffic at the landmark.
The tunnel-like tree-lined avenue is one of the most photographed in Northern Ireland, and has seen a dramatic rise in visitor numbers since being featured in the hit TV series Game Of Thrones.
However, many fear that the level of access is damaging the trees.
The consultation document proposes a ban on traffic on the Bregagh Road, between Ballinlea Road and Ballykenver Road. In addition, buses and coaches would also be banned from using Chatham Road between Ballinlea Road and Ballykenver Road, as well as Doughery Brae between Carrowreagh Road and Ballinlea Road.
Exceptions will be made for certain vehicles, including tractors, ambulances and police cars.
North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey told the Belfast Telegraph: "There's been concern for a considerable period of time about the damage that the excess of vehicles and buses is causing to the road, as well as potentially to the trees.
"So the dilemma is we either continue to allow that to happen, or we try to take some proactive measures that will protect the natural assets as well as accommodate the many thousands of people who are visiting the Dark Hedges."
He encouraged people to share their opinions on the traffic plans before the deadline on February 10.
"We need to try and ensure that we've given due weight and consideration to the local residents and community who use the Bregagh Road, because obviously they were using the road before many of the visitors who now come on a regular basis," he said.
The North Antrim MLA added that the issue should have been addressed sooner.
"The thing that has disappointed me the most is that it's taken so long to get to the stage where there is now very focused interest in the Dark Hedges," he said.
"That all came about when they appeared for eight seconds on Game Of Thrones, and then they went viral. Now they've become the victim of their own success."