The storm damage done to one of Northern Ireland’s premier natural landmarks has been described as “absolutely awful” by one conservation figure.
Patrick Cregg of the Woodland Trust believes a trio of trees at the Co Antrim site have collapsed, adding that more may yet fall.
He said they are beginning to reach the end of their natural lives anyway, and when one collapses it can undermine the stability of others nearby.
The felling of the trees was a consequence of the very strong winds brought by Storm Gertrude overnight from Thursday to Friday, which left roads closed and disrupted power to 17,500 homes.
In one particularly bizarre incident, the fire brigade was summoned to retrieve a rabbit which had been blown on to a Co Tyrone roof.
It happened in the Deverney Road area of the town, and a single fire engine was dispatched to the scene at about 9.15am where its crew used two ladders and a water rescue pole to bring the creature back to earth in a operation lasting 45 minutes.
When it comes to the Dark Hedges (which is comprised of 90 imposing beech trees which tightly line the Bregagh Road near Ballymoney) Mr Cregg estimated the trees are around 200 years old.
Members of the species normally only live to between 200 and 300 years old, and last year the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust – of which he is a member – noticed some of their branches were dying back due to age.
Some trees and branches were removed due to safety fears for the tourists who visit the site each year (many drawn to it because of its appearance in hit fantasy TV show Game of Thrones).
New trees were planted in their stead, and Mr Cregg said replacement trees will now also be planted to make up for the three lost to wind, but added: “It’s going to take some years for them to assume the same majesty as the ones they are replacing – it could take anything up to 100 years to reach the same size.”
Asked if more may yet fall, he replied: “Yes, because the problem is when you lose a tree, or a couple of trees, within a row it upsets the balance. It can mean the other trees may be vulnerable. It changes the winds and how they react.”
He said they will continue doing surveys on the trees to see if they remain stable.