Game of Thrones tunnel of trees damaged in Storm Gertrude

DUP Minister to convene meeting in attempt to safeguard Dark Hedges tourist attraction

Game of Thrones: Line of interlinking Beech trees known on the show as the Dark Hedges were damaged by Storm Gertrude

Game of Thrones: Line of interlinking Beech trees known on the show as the Dark Hedges were damaged by Storm Gertrude

 

A DUP Minister has called a meeting of a special preservation group to try to devise a means of safeguarding a tunnelled avenue of beech trees that features in the HBO series Game of Thrones.

Two trees from the Dark Hedges line of interlinking trees were toppled by Storm Gertrude on Thursday night into Friday morning with a third badly fractured and several branches from other trees also damaged by the fierce winds.

Local MLA and Minister of Finance Mervyn Storey, who is also chairman of the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust, after visiting the site said action must be taken to protect the trees.

There is now concern that the high tourist interest in the Dark Hedges triggered by Game of Thrones is threatening the amenity.

Last August a Co Antrim award-winning wildlife and landscape photographer Bob McCallion warned in the Irish News that tourists parking at the site were “damaging the road verges and even the roots of these centuries-old trees”.

He repeated on Friday that action must be taken to defend the site while also saying that he believed it was the strength of the storm rather than tourist interference that caused the trees to fall.

Tourist attraction

The trees were planted in 1775 by Aristocrat James Stuart on the narrow road that led to his Georgian mansion, Gracehill House. They are known locally as the Dark Hedges and have long been a tourist attraction.

However, when they were used to represent the King’s Road in Game of Thrones, much of which is filmed in Northern Ireland, tourism interest soared. It became part of Game of Thrones bus tours as well as attracting scores of day-trippers.

Mr McCallion while saying the storm probably was the reason for the damage nonetheless said there must be a concerted plan to safeguard the site. He added that the threat to the trees also constituted a safety concern for tourists.

He called for a pathway to be built close to the trees and for greater parking, toilet and other facilities to be created near the site. “This is one of the most beautiful and most photographed tree tunnels in the world. But it is also one of the most vulnerable and it needs to be protected,” he said.

Mr Storey said there was a great challenge safeguarding the trees and ensuring locals and tourists could enjoy “one of the most idyllic tree lines in Europe”. He said as chairman of the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust he would shortly convene a meeting of an umbrella group of representative from the trust, the road service, Department of the Environment, local council and other interested parties to devise a plan to protect the site.

“There is a mystique about the Dark Hedges and the challenge for us is to protect them,” he said.