Countryfile winner expresses concern over Dark Hedges

Local photographer and winner of the Countryfile Calendar Competition his expressed his ‘grave concern’ over the future of one of Northern Ireland’s top tourist attactions - the Dark Hedges.

Bob McCallion has been photographing the trees for many years but also has a keen interest in their welfare and history.

In a letter he explains: “Another year has passed and yet again no progress seems to have been made on the plight of what is now probably Northern Ireland’s top tourist attraction - the Dark Hedges near Stranocum.

“The infamous eyesore, the ‘green fence’, still remains and the locals still suffer from strangers knocking on their doors asking direction - still no signs to guide visitors to the site and no information boards when they arrive. The tourists, including the Game of Thrones fans, arrive in droves, sometimes by the coach-load. The farmers in their tractors weave their way among the randomly parked vehicles and sightseers. This poor stretch of road with it’s beautiful tree tunnel and surrounding area was never meant to have this level of traffic and visitors. Yet the powers that be are still promoting an area with no facilities or signage as the ‘must see’ tourist attraction!

“I feel we are many years too late in catering for the welfare of this unique area. The project should have been handed over to a specialist ages ago - one with the power, experience, vision and knowledge to implement a fast-track solution, but still work with the land owners and other parties. The site should at least be made a conservation area and the footprint extended to include the land on either side of the trees, the historically important Gracehill House and the dismantled Ballymoney to Ballycastle narrow gauge railway – which has great potential as a cycle route/walkway. The old stone pillars and wrought iron gateways which used to grace the Bregagh Road should also be re-instated.

“The top priority is the preservation and prolonging the life of the trees, together with replanting of those which have been lost. With care and sensitive management, proper traffic control and car parking, this unique region could actually warrant World Heritage status.

“Finally, it is the residents, especially landowners, who have suffered the most, but it is a credit to them that the trees have survived. Will their concerns be addressed or will they be ignored and allowed to fade like the Grey Lady of the Dark Hedges?”