Proposals to tackle the damage caused to Northern Ireland’s world-famous Dark Hedges by cars and coaches include blocking traffic to the attraction altogether and building a nearby ‘orientation hub’ for tourists.
Fears have been expressed about damage to the root system of the iconic trees caused by the huge increase in traffic since the Dark Hedges shot to international attention after featuring in smash hit TV series Game of Thrones.
In addition to their own proposals to protect the Dark Hedges, there are also private sector plans to cash in on their new-found Game of Thrones fame, according to a report prepared by the Causeway Coast and Glens council.
The report, which has yet to be discussed by elected representatives at the council, outlines a range of proposals to “pedestrianise” the Dark Hedges and a proposal for the council to buy up more than 1.5 square kilometres of agricultural land from a private landowner in order to build what is described as an “orientation hub space for the Dark Hedges Experience”.
It also outlines proposals from the owners of the Gracehill Golf Club and the Hedges Hotel for a “themed attraction”, as well as parking and comfort facilities.
The authors of the council report believe the local area isn’t benefiting as it should from the huge number of visitors.
The report states: “The tens of thousands of visitors to this location bring economic benefit to Northern Ireland and the Causeway Coast and Glens Area. There is a clear opportunity for businesses in the locality of the Dark Hedges to significantly increase their revenue from these visitor numbers.
“At present, however, this potential is not being realised, with much of the visiting traffic simply parking on the carriageway at Bregagh Road to view the Dark Hedges and, consequently, little obvious benefit is being brought to the locality.
“The large numbers of visitors and vehicles to the Bregagh Road, including coaches up to 10 metres in length, has had a detrimental impact on the local environment.
“Verge erosion, site degradation and potential damage to the root system of the trees has not only had an adverse physical impact on the environment but has led to a diminished visitor experience for the many thousands of visitors coming to see and enjoy the Dark Hedges.”
The proposals contained in the report will be discussed at the Causeway Coast and Glens Council on Tuesday.