Forestry chiefs on 'high alert' over theft of Christmas trees
FORESTRY officials are on "high alert" for Christmas tree gangs looking to hack down festive firs to flog to the public.
In the past two years, as the recession took hold, growers in the niche market recorded a rise in theft.
"It is a problem. We are all very worried this year in particular. They are a valuable crop and everyone has been on high alert since mid-November," Dermot Page, chairman of the Irish Christmas Tree Growers' group, said.
In a single night, raiders can cause major damage by cutting down dozens of trees and damaging the remaining stock.
In response, security measures have been installed and lights erected at plantations to warn off would-be raiders.
Forestry workers are also carrying out patrols and gardai have been alerted.
"It did happen last year," Mr Page said. "Before the last two years, we never saw it as a problem. Everyone is looking to make some money coming up to Christmas."
Demand is expected to match other years, with little fall-off in the market experienced last Christmas. Prices will vary from €25 to €45 depending on the height and quality of the tree.
The Christmas tree market is valued at more than €15m, according to Bord Bia. More than 600,000 trees are cut down, with more than 200,000 destined for export markets such as the UK, France and other locations throughout Europe.
Cutting began a few weeks ago on the trees for export, while the majority destined for the domestic market is harvested in the last week in November.
"Every tree needs a lot of manicuring and work to get it into the classic shape," Mr Page said. It takes about eight years for the tree to grow to between seven to eight foot in height.
Irish consumers tend to opt for a taller tree than in the UK or French markets.
"Everyone wants a bigger tree than they need and they end up having to hack the top off it which is a 'criminal' offence to us growers," Mr Page added.
Many forestries have stopped growing the non-shed Noble Fir, which is popular among Irish customers, as it is difficult to produce.
The non-shed Nordmann Fir is now the biggest seller.