Gardaí urge vigilance amid crackdown on Christmas tree theft
Ireland's real Christmas tree market is now worth €21m - and gardaí have launched 'Operation Hurdle' in a bid to crack down on tree theft.
Christmas tree growers admitted they were expecting a bumper season this year, in part thanks to its 'Love a Real Tree' campaign.
Irish families celebrated the festive season with around 350,000 real Christmas trees last year, and the Irish Christmas Tree Growers' Association (ICTGA) expects that number to soar to 400,000 over the next seven weeks.
The industry is now worth about €21m with Christmas trees offering a vital seasonal income to many small farmers and specialist growers.
The main harvesting season begins this week - though most trees aren't purchased until early December.
Such is the surging value of the industry that criminals have targeted both growers and State forests.
Wicklow-based Garda Superintendent Paul Hogan has launched 'Operation Hurdle' in a bid to crackdown on thieves targeting forests and growers nationwide.
First introduced three years ago due to the spiralling level of tree thefts and illegal tree cutting, 'Operation Hurdle' has significantly reduced criminal activity in the sector.
ICTGA official Dermot Page said the Garda campaign, combined with Ireland's ongoing economic recovery, had meant festive cheer for tree growers and sellers.
"The support from the gardaí combined with improved tagging systems and security measures at different Christmas tree farms have made a huge difference," he said.
"We are appealing to all growers, and indeed the public, to be vigilant and to report any suspicious activity near Christmas tree farms in the coming weeks."
Growers have been boosted by excellent weather conditions this season with the recent cold weather ideal for harvesting trees.
The ICTGA said it was also "very pleased" with Ireland's ongoing love affair with real Christmas trees. Their 'Love A Real Tree' labelling system helps guide families towards trees that suit their needs and also reassurance them about quality domestic products.
The most popular type of tree is the Nordmann Fir, largely thanks to its dark green needles and traditional appearance.
However, other families have their own favourites including the Noble Fir, Norway Spruce, Fraser Fir, Korean Fir and Lodgepole Pine.