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Number of famous Dark Hedges trees may need to be felled for safety

A REPORT HANDED to a local council in Northern Ireland has advised that eleven trees are felled in the Dark Hedges, an avenue of trees known as a filming location in Game of Thrones.

Six of the trees are under a Tree Preservation Order, which are issued to protect certain trees in cases where their removal would be likely to have a significant impact on the local environment and the public’s enjoyment of it.

The consent of the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council is required before felling or pruning a tree under a TPO in the area, with the council’s planning committee convening today.

The trees, of which there are 86 in total, are nearly 250 years old and are mostly categorised as being in poor to fair condition, which is considered to be expected due to their age.

The Dark Hedges are an “exceptional landscape feature which have high public amenity value and tourist interest”, the document prepared for councillors outlines.

The Beech trees are believed to have been planted around 1775 and to have featured roughly 150 trees at the time.

“Over the years, whilst gracing the local landscape, the Beech trees have declined in number through natural causes and various storms, not helped by the exposed location and linear planting form, to the current number of 86 trees,” it says.

The remaining trees are almost 250 years old and “may be considered to be Over Mature for Beech trees and coming towards the end of their expected Life Cycle”.

An arboriculturist surveyed all 86 trees on the site, 49 of which are under a TPO, and found that 60% (52) of the trees were in poor condition and 38% in fair condition.

The arboriculturist advised that the trees show many health and structural issues that are common in maturing Beech trees.

“With the site being a popular tourist attraction, as well as used by local traffic, there is concern over the potential of tree failure and risk of harm in relation to a number of identified trees,” the document says.

The report has identified “six TPO trees and 5 non-TPO trees (11 trees in total) in poor condition with a current risk to the public that require removal”.

Remedial pruning works have been proposed for most of the remaining trees but they are largely expected to have a life expectancy of at least another ten years.

“The context of the site, with the daily public and tourist interactions within the Dark Hedges is an important consideration and the issues raised in the report regarding health and safety concerns in association with potentially dangerous and structurally compromised trees are considered to be valid,” the council has been told.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Northern Ireland’s Department of Infrastructure said that the department “recognises the value of all roadside trees of these trees in particular and acknowledges the need for robust evidence to justify any intervention”.

“The Department has a legal and moral obligation to act when public safety is at risk and takes this duty very seriously – in this case the Department is continuing to liaise with the landowners and local stakeholders to determine the next course of action as a matter of urgency.”