UPDATE, DEC. 2011: At the end of November I was delighted to receive a very nice email from Mervyn Storey MLA, in response to a question I had asked him about the issues below. Mr Storeyhas been working on the conservation of Dark Hedges for some time it seems, and there are plans afoot for any fencing to be moved behind the trees in early 2012. The land lining the road will be passed to a preservation trust, and some new planting will occur to help safeguard the future of the tree lined avenue.
I will of course be monitoring the situation, and look forward to posting a blog entry confirming that the fencing has been moved!
What and where are, the 'Dark Hedges?
A row of beautiful and ancient beech trees line the northern section of the Bregagh Road, near Armoy in County Antrim. Known locally as the 'Dark Hedges,' this road is one of the most photographed locations in Northern Ireland. It is also rumoured to be haunted, and supposedly the ghost of a grey lady can be seen wandering the road late at night!
It is a very popular spot, both for locals to drive along on their way to somewhere else, and for visitors to photograph. In fact, having visited the Dark Hedges 5+ times myself, I have almost always bumped into 1 or 2 other photographers.
In the online photography community, both locally and internationally, photographs of Dark Hedges are always held in high regard. Despite the fact that virtually the same composition is used by every photographer, and the subsequent repetitive nature of the shots, the location is so dramatic and mystical that the appeal doesn't diminish.
Here are my own efforts at capturing the Dark Hedges:
What is the 'disaster?'
Well, perhaps calling it a disaster is a little dramatic, as the trees are still standing. However, from a visual standpoint, the famous scene which draws photographers from across the UK and beyond has been destroyed. Someone, and I won't presume that is was solely a landowner decision, has decided it was appropriate to replace the old rickety fence (which had some charm) with a brand new fence along vast lengths of the road.
However, the fence itself is not the main problem (although I would rather it had been placed behind the trees), the problem is the bright green mesh which has been used to cover the fence. In one swift move, one of Northern Ireland's most beautiful locations has been made infinitely less appealing - it's old-world charm and magic has been lost.
It is important that when dealing with such incidents, that the thought processes of others involved are taken into account. For example, if this decision was made by local landowners, who have to live with daily visitors to the Dark Hedges, the situation may not be so straightforward. However, I do feel that in owning land which is ofsignificant value and interest to the local and visiting populations, a certain level or responsibility must be adhered too. The preservation of the trees, including their visual impact, must take top priority.
From what I have gathered so far, it would seem that a committee responsible for the preservation of the trees has recently been given a lottery grant in the region of £50000-£60000. If any of that money has been used to pay for that fence, then that is a disgrace of the highest order. (Please note that my objection is to the green fence, not the aims of the committee, which I think, taken at face value, are fantastic.)
UPDATE: After reading the groups lottery funding application, it does seem like money from the grant has been allocated for fencing. :(
Consequences & Reaction
It is slightly ironic that this should happen when interest in Dark Hedges is at it's highest; the location was used recently during filming for the mammoth American TV series Game of Thrones, and is soon to be featured in the very popular UK TV show Countryfile.
The consequences for the area are obvious - less people will visit. In fact, when I posted details of this visual desecration on various online photographic communities, the consequences became very clear:
OOOH. That looks terrible. I wonder if this was to deter photographers from gathering there. An awful pity.
Oh my, what an eyesore, I was planning to take someone there but might as well not bother now. Shame.
I drove 120 miles at 5am in the morning about 6 weeks ago and saw that terrible looking green fence.... I think its a disgrace that something so desperate looking should be put up in such a beautiful place.
Certainly has ruined it Stephen, even an ordinary wooden fence would have been better.
...Thanks for the update as I intended to go to this place in December.
Government grants for new fencing! They don`t care about spoiling the landscape.
Thats an awful mess they've made. Such a beautifully rare scene changed for the worse.
I discovered what had happened in mid-November, and after my initial anger about the situation subsided, I had a little look online, to see if others shared my frustration. It seems that I was several steps behind many others, who had been blogging about and reporting the issue since September. Here are some useful links:
Nevin has posted several excellent links in his blog. Please read his post on the issue and explore from there, I don't want to take advantage of his hard work by reposting the links here.
If local MLA Mervyn Storey has been quoted correctly in this article, then I strongly disagree with his appraisal of the whole fence situation. Although I do agree that the dumping of rubbish in the countryside is reprehensible, the visual impact of a few black bags is less than that of a glowing green fence running along the road. I shall be emailing Councillor Storey a link to this post, I don't think he has considered all the angles.