Locals who live near the famous Dark Hedges are growing increasingly concerned that the iconic tree could become victims of their own success.
The use of the venue as a filming location for HBO’s Game of Thrones coupled with a concerted publicity campaign and the erection of “brown” direction signs have lead to the landmark being swamped with tourists.
Now, residents are speaking out about their concerns that the popularity of the Hedges could spell a ‘dark’ future for the trees themselves and the surrounding environment.
One resident contacted the Times saying: “The Dark Hedges Preservation Trust and Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust (CCGHT) have for some time, despite public opinion, been advising visitors to the Dark Hedges to park in the Hedges Hotel car park. People then have to walk on a dangerous stretch of road on a blind bend to reach the trees.
“The recently erected, and much awaited, brown signs do not guide anyone directly to the tree tunnel but to the Hedges Hotel car park. When you walk onto and cross the Ballinlea Road there are two small ‘pedestrian’ signs sending you along this perilous route.
“Individuals, or groups from the many coach tours, could be risking their lives on this unlit portion of road.”
Meanwhile on social media, Facebook followers have been sharing a post by local photographer Art Ward who wrote: “I have been visiting the Dark Hedges and enjoying it for well over forty years having grown up locally to it. I was well aware that it was being promoted as a visitor attraction by the tourism industry after its use in the Home Box Office production. In my naivety I did expect this would also include some tourism infrastructure development to cater for the expected and targeted up turn in visitors to the location and also to show some care and respect for the locality.
“I visited this summer and was, to be honest, absolutely shocked by what I saw...not by the visitors coming to enjoy the location as they have become aware of it through promotional campaigns and are very welcome. What shocked me was the complete and absolute lack of any tourism infrastructure being put in place to facilitate visitors and to create a good experience for them.
“It seems to be a total ‘free for all’ with regards parking and access. When I visited there was no adequate car parking, no bins, no signage, extreme verge destruction, littering, dumping, pot holing of the road and to top it all 53 seater coaches drove up and down the avenue during my one hour visit.
“To say this is a world class tourism experience is a total myth although it could be,”
Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council said: “Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council has no ownership of the road or lands adjacent to the Dark Hedges but we clearly recognise the virtue of the site to the tourism economy, which has increased dramatically since the screening of the Game of Thrones series. As a consequence there is an onus on the Council to work with the other statutory organisations and community groups to try and resolve the congestion that is occurring at the Dark Hedges.”