Sunday 17 December 2017

'500 Christmas trees were stolen' - Business ramps up security heading into festive season

Christy Kavanagh pictured on his Christmas tree farm in Newtownmountkennedy, Co. Wicklow. Picture- Gerry Mooney
Christy Kavanagh pictured on his Christmas tree farm in Newtownmountkennedy, Co. Wicklow. Picture- Gerry Mooney

Ryan Nugent and Ralph Riegel

A Christmas tree grower has told how he had to install CCTV and other security measures after he had 500 trees stolen from his farm by one gang.

Christy Kavanagh and his family business in Newtownmountkennedy have been growing and selling Christmas trees since the 1950s. He told the Herald that around 2,000 Christmas trees were being stolen by thieves across Wicklow every year up until recently.

He has since introduced security measures around his farm to target thefts and a new garda operation in the area will also target the gangs.

The theft and re-selling of trees on the black market has proven to be a very lucrative business, with the Irish Christmas tree market now worth a staggering €21m.

“A few years ago we had a truck-load of trees stolen, I don’t know how many in total trees but there could have been around 500,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“The trees were cut and netted and then they were gone. We had them all netted and they then become very vulnerable. It was a big worry in the past. There are regular [garda] patrols now and we’ve our own security.

“We have cameras on the farm, we’ve changed and we’ve put in a lot of security.

“We have webcams andwe have lights that are triggered by movement and we can see it all on the phone. There’s a chopper as well and there’s no hiding from the garda helicopter when that flies over,” he added.

Irish families celebrated the festive season with around 350,000 real Christmas trees bought last year.

The Irish Christmas Tree Growers Association (ICTGA) expect that number to soar to 400,000 over the next seven weeks. The industry is now worth around €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, criminals are now targeting both growers and State forests. Wicklow-based Supt Paul Hogan will launch Operation Hurdle later this month 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, has meant festive cheer for tree growers and sellers.

“The support from the Gardai combined with improved tagging systems and security measures at different Christmas tree farms have made a huge difference.

“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,” he said.

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