WICKLOW GARDAI and Christmas tree growers have joined forces to combat the theft of trees through the formation of ' Operation Hurdle.'
Supt. Paul Hogan and Christmas tree farmers met in October and outlined plans to tackle an increase in the theft of trees which has been noted in previous year in upland areas during the build up to Christmas.
Last year close to € 60,000 worth of Christmas trees were stolen in the lead up to Christmas, while one local Christmas tree grower was also tied up by criminals and had a large sum of money stolen from his home.
While the main focus of ' Operation Hurdle' may be on preventing the theft of Christmas trees, it also focuses on the prevention of other crimes such as burglaries and thefts from vehicles. It further includes the monitoring and gathering of intelligence of both local and roaming criminals with the intention of disrupting a range of criminal activities, including poaching, which intelligence suggested was in many instances committed by the same suspected individuals.
Describing the work involved in 'Operation Hurdle', Supt Hogan says, 'checkpoints and patrols have been carried out in the Upland areas of by Garda units. The Garda Air Support Unit have supported the operation and the Garda Helicopter has conducted air patrols in these areas in conjunction with local units as many of the locations are remote and difficult to access. They have the facility to use their infra red and the night sun equipment to monitor large areas for illegal activity.'
It was reported that up to 500 Christmas trees were stolen in November, but Supt Hogan says this figure is excessive.
'A number of these trees have been recovered and as of yet nobody has been apprehended in connection with this crime and Garda enquiries are ongoing.' He is also pleased with the level of cooperation being shown by local residents and Christmas Tree farmers.
' The reaction from local residents has been positive as they have felt safe due to the increased level of Garda activity. The reaction from the Christmas tree farmers has also been very positive as the operation to date has been successful.'