Belfast Telegraph

Ill wind does Dark Hedges no good as branches are ripped off by Storm Hector

By Gerald Lennon

The Dark Hedges have fallen victim to Storm Hector, but huge visitor numbers may have contributed to the "terrible loss".

The tree-lined avenue in Co Antrim became a tourist attraction after appearing in Game of Thrones as the "King's Road", and is now one of the most photographed sites in the world.

But gusts of 60mph which battered Northern Ireland midweek tore a number of branches off the centuries-old trees.

Causeway Coast and Glens UUP councillor Joan Baird believes a combination of dry weather before the storm and heavy numbers of tourists are to blame.

"Storm Hector has been unkind to the Dark Hedges, where several trees have lost branches. This is a terrible loss to the area," she said.

"These are very old trees, but they're not helped by the fact that tourists park cars and buses on top of their roots."

She said there was little the council could do as it did not own any of the land surrounding the popular attraction.

"We have been trying to encourage cars to park in a nearby hotel car park, but this causes other problems because they have to cross a very busy road to get there, people are literally risking their lives," she said.

None of the beeches which make up the Dark Hedges on the Bregagh Road were uprooted, but Ms Baird believes that could happen if crowd control measures are not implemented.

"The vast numbers of visitors and the amount of cars is damaging the roots," she added.

"In agricultural terms it's referred to as 'poaching'.

"The roots are forced to bend and are squeezed in, which weakens the trees."

Some of unique trees were planted by the Stuart family along the entrance to Gracehill House more than 200 years ago.

Over two-thirds of them have stood the test of time, but their new-found fame appears to be taking its toll.

The Dark Hedges Trust plans to preserve the picturesque narrow rural avenue, between Armoy and Stranocum, by planting a number of new trees as the existing ones approach the end of their lifespan.

Ms Baird said the sustained period of calm we experienced before the storm also played a part.

"It's very unusual to have a storm like this in June, the dry and sunny conditions beforehand would also have weakened the branches," she explained.

Several of the trees were brought down in 2016 when Storm Gertrude unleashed fury across the province. They were later carved into doors.

The Woodland Trust has a huge interest in maintaining the area due to its unique and historical nature.

Ms Baird argued that more could be done by the statutory authorities.

"Of course the road is now in fact closed to traffic," she said.

"Anyone found driving there, apart from local farmers, runs the risk of a £1,000 fine. More steps need to be taken to restrict people getting too close.

"People are putting themselves and these trees in danger.

"Some infrastructural work is required. I believe an underpass should be installed."

The Department for Infrastructure introduced a ban on non-agricultural traffic using the road on October 30 last year in a bid to protect the Dark Hedges.

Belfast Telegraph

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