Dark Hedges 'could disappear in 15 years'

The Dark Hedges could be gone in 15 years campaigners have warned. Credit: UTV

Northern Ireland’s Dark Hedges trees, made famous by Game Of Thrones, could be gone in 15 years unless a preservation plan is put in place, a campaigner has warned.

Mervyn Storey, chairman of the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust, said the state of the Co Antrim tourist attraction has declined sharply in recent years and called for an aggressive replanting scheme to fill out gaps created by trees which have fallen or been cut down.

In November 2023, six trees were removed and remedial work carried out on several others on safety grounds.

The tunnel of trees reached notoriety when it was featured in the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones and now attracts a significant number of global visitors.

However, concerns have been raised about the state of several of the beech trees near Stranocum and a number have blown down during storms in recent years.

Mr Storey said: “These trees are 300 years old, so obviously there is a challenge in terms of how do you maintain something of that age? There is a natural lifespan and obviously that’s coming progressively closer and closer to an end.”

The chairman of the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust said focus now needed to turn towards preserving the state of the trees which are left.

“If you look at the Dark Hedges, it is not as it once was, it is different because nature has taken its toll, trees have fallen as a result of wind, decay.“

"We are now at a place where I think there will be a refocusing of the minds of those who have a genuine interest in trying to preserve what is left.

“That is a culmination of statutory agencies, of the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, the preservation trust, the Causeway Council, government departments, the landowners and others who want to come together in a way that puts a management plan in place.

“That is all going to take time to develop, it is also going to take money and the biggest challenge and my disappointment over the many years that I’ve been involved with this is that the money has been very limited, in some cases non-existent, that has come from government departments to actually help.

“We have got plenty of platitudes, plenty of visits, plenty of photographs and plenty of people who say this is a wonderful place, but not too many of them put their hand in their pocket.

Mr Storey warned of the potential impact on what remains of the Dark Hedges if a preservation plan is not put in place.

He said: “I think this site would just continue to look vacant because trees will continue to fall, there are some of them that might stand the test of time because they are strong trees, but if you look at the reports that have been carried out, they give us a good baseline and they give us information that we might not want to face up to of the real condition of what is left of the Dark Hedges."

"What I would love to see is a very aggressive replanting. The gaps that we have, actually plant trees there that would be 15-20ft high, fill the gaps and try to bring back some of that mystique.

“I don’t think they have lost it, the hedges are a joy to see, but I would love to see the sides filled up and try to manage it, but to do that it is going to take expertise, time and finance.”

Mr Storey added: “You have to be realistic and realise that in the middle of a financial crisis that it is going to be difficult.

The campaigner stressed that the responsibility should not fall on any singular body but should instead come from a consortium of organisations working together on a shared management plan.

“If it is not done it will deplete and it could disappear in 10-15 years’ time", he said.

In 2024, responsibility for the Dark Hedges will pass from the Preservation Trust to the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust (CCGHT).

The CCGHT has plans to set up a new Dark Hedges Management Forum expected to consist of statutory organisations, landowners and other interested parties.

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