Trees made famous by Game of Thrones are set to be cut down amid concerns they are dangerous to the public.
The Dark Hedges, a tunnel of beech trees that prominently featured in season two of the popular fantasy series, are located in Northern Ireland, on the Bregagh Road near Armoy.
Stormont’s Department of Infrastructure (DfI) said work will begin at the site in Co Antrim on Monday, when six of the trees will be removed and remedial work will be carried out on several others.
The trees were planted more than 200 years ago at the entrance to the Stuart family’s Gracehill House mansion. There were originally 150 trees, but that number will now fall to around 80.
Game of Thrones fans from across the world have travelled to the area to walk down the popular route which is featured on tours of set locations in Northern Ireland.
By 2017, the site was so popular traffic had to be banned from driving along the Road to protect the trees’ roots.
Mervyn Storey, chairman of the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust, said the work followed two reports which concluded some trees would have to be removed for safety reasons.
The former DUP MLA said: “While we would want that these trees would last forever, the reality is if they are 300 years of age that is not going to be the case and this work has to be carried out.
“I think it is also another marker in the long journey that we are on in terms of putting in place a management structure to manage this area.
“Eight seconds in Game Of Thrones changed the Bregagh Road and the Dark Hedges forever and we have even today, even though there is a closure in the road, we have people from California.
“This has been a tourist attraction for the last number of years.
“Yes, there is work needs to be done, but there has to be a long-term plan and that is going to take money and where is that coming from?”
Mr Storey added: “We don’t want to inhibit people, but we also want to ensure when people come here they are safe.
“There has to be aggressive replanting, there had been a replanting late 2014, but because of lack of resource to maintain that planting it hasn’t taken.”
The DfI said that the decision to cut down several trees had not been taken lightly but affirmed road safety was “paramount”.
“Following concerns about the condition of some of the trees, the department commissioned an independent specialist survey which found that 11 trees, out of a total of 86, along this route are in a poor condition and could pose a potential risk to the public,” a spokesperson said.
The department added that they immediately liasied with the relevant landowners and stakeholders to make the arrangements and reduce public risk.
The spokesperson added: “This decision has not been made lightly and, whilst the amenity value afforded by the corridor of trees is acknowledged, the safety of road users is paramount.”
Six trees will be removed, four will have remedial work carried out and the condition of one further tree will be assessed on site. The DfI says they are working with relevant parties to protect the future of the other 75 trees.
The works began today and are expected to be completed on Thursday, depending on weather conditions. The road has been closed to both vehicles and pedestrians during the scheduled works.