The Dark Hedges: Six of the famous beech trees to be felled to protect Game of Thrones tourists

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The chairman of the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust says the famed trees are very old, and are not going to last forever

Work is now underway removing six trees made famous by the Game of Thrones series in Northern Ireland - to protect tourists who stop by to see them from being injured.

The Dark Hedges, in County Antrim, featured in the HBO fantasy series as the Kingsroad, which Arya Stark travelled down after escaping King's Landing disguised as a boy. The tunnel is made up of nearly 90 beech trees planted alongside Bregagh Road by the owner of nearby Gracehill House in 1775, and now attracts a significant number of tourists from around the world each year.

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However, concerns have been raised about the state of several of the beech trees, with many of the 150 originally planted lost throughout the years. A recent survey by the Department for Infrastructure found that 11 trees out of 86 were in a poor condition and could pose a potential risk to the public. Following discussions with relevant landowners and other stakeholders, arrangements were made to remove six of them, and for remedial work to be carried out on four trees to reduce this risk.

People walking along the Dark Hedges as workmen begin the operation to remove a number of the trees (Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire)People walking along the Dark Hedges as workmen begin the operation to remove a number of the trees (Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire)
People walking along the Dark Hedges as workmen begin the operation to remove a number of the trees (Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire) | Liam McBurney/PA Wire

As work began at the site on Monday morning (20 November), PA reports there were still a number of international tourists visiting the trees. Dark Hedges Preservation Trust chair Mervyn Stoney said: “While we would want that these trees would last forever, the reality is if they are 300 years of age that is not going to be the case, and this work has to be carried out.

“I think it is also another marker in the long journey that we are on, in terms of putting in place a management structure to manage this area," he continued. “Eight seconds in Game Of Thrones changed the Bregagh Road and the Dark Hedges forever and we have even today, even though there is a closure in the road, we have people from California."

Mr Storey said they did not want to stop visitors enjoying the trees, but they wanted to make sure that the people who came to see them were safe. He also wanted to make sure the corridor continued to exist, by planting new trees where the old ones once stood. “There has to be aggressive replanting, there had been a replanting late 2014, but because of lack of resource to maintain that planting it hasn’t taken," he added.

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In a statement, the Department for Infrastructure said: “This decision has not been made lightly and, while the amenity value afforded by the corridor of trees is acknowledged, the safety of road users is paramount. The department will continue to engage with landowners and other stakeholders regarding their implementation of a suitable management strategy to protect the future of the other 75 trees.”

In the coming months responsibility for preserving the trees will pass from the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust to the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust. Chief executive Graham Thompson said they planned to establish a new Dark Hedges Management Forum. “It is envisaged that in future the issues at the site will be managed in a co-ordinated strategic manner...This includes a management plan ensuring the longevity of the trees, while giving full consideration to health and safety issues."

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