Northern Ireland

Game of Thrones trees traffic ban 'not enforced'

Dark Hedges from Game of Thrones Image copyright Northern Ireland Tourist Board

It has been six months since traffic was banned from the Dark Hedges - but vehicles still use the road every day.

The tunnel of beech trees on the Bregagh Road near Armoy, County Antrim, is now a major tourist attraction.

It featured for just a few seconds on HBO fantasy drama series Game of Thrones, but that brief appearance was enough to draw visitors from around the world.

The rural road has struggled to cope with the resulting vehicle numbers.

The traffic ban was brought on by concerns about the impact heavy traffic was having on the 200-year-old trees at the site.

About 150 were planted by James Stuart, but time has taken its toll over the centuries and now fewer than two thirds remain standing.

Motorists who flout the ban have been warned they could face a fine of up to £1,000.

Image copyright Sandy Laverty
Image caption Visitors have flocked to the Dark Hedges since it was featured on Game of Thrones

But the PSNI, which is in charge of enforcing the ban, has told the BBC no fines have been issued.

"Police are aware of the traffic issues at the Dark Hedges and we monitor the area as part of our routine patrols," said Insp David Jennings.

"However, given the pressure on resources, it is neither justifiable nor sustainable for us to maintain a constant presence at the site.

"We are continuing our dialogue with other partners to work towards a permanent solution to the issue."

'Enforcement'

Bob McCallion has campaigned for the preservation of the Dark Hedges.

"We've really had six more months of damage since the ban came in because lots of people are just ignoring the road signs," he said.

On finding a long term solution to the problem, he said: "I think the signs need to be enforced by the PSNI immediately, if that's not possible then we need to look at long-term physical measures but in the meantime the destruction continues.

"If this was an attraction in any other country you would have gates at either side of this road, although some locals and especially farmers would need to be given concessions."

Mr McCallion and members of his Save the Dark Hedges group volunteer at the site, advising tourists where they should park.

Image caption Bob McCallion has campaigned for the preservation of the Dark Hedges

He said: "Unless there's some enforcement down here of the signage to get the tourist traffic off the road, until such times as physical barriers are here, we're going to see damage happen time and time again.

"Damage will continue to this world-famous tree tunnel, which is a pity really."

The Department for Infrastructure prohibition order bans cars, motorbikes, buses and coaches from using the designated stretch of the road.

Some vehicles, including agricultural and emergency vehicles, are exempt from the ban "in certain circumstances".

'Respect restrictions'

Signage outlining the ban has been in place at both ends of the Bregagh Road since last year.

More signs were erected before Easter but they were vandalised with graffiti.

A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson told the BBC that "the vast majority of coaches and many car drivers" are observing the ban but that the department is working with other bodies "to reduce the volume of traffic ignoring the traffic signs".

The spokesperson added that the traffic ban "is one step in the process of managing this tourist attraction and is not the whole situation".

"Improved facilities will be required at this location if visitor numbers are sustained," the spokesperson said.

"The department would again ask local visitors and those from further afield to respect and adhere to the restrictions put in place to help protect the now iconic location."

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