Gardai conduct air patrols to deter Christmas tree thieves
Almost €100,000 worth of Christmas trees have been stolen from farms in one county this year
GARDAI are conducting air patrols as part of 'Operation Hurdle' to combat Christmas tree theft.
Motion detectors, concealed cameras and security guards have also been installed to curb the theft of the festive trees in Wicklow.
The majority of Ireland's Christmas trees are grown in Wicklow and so far this year nearly €100,000 worth of Christmas trees have been stolen from farms in the county.
A spokesman for the Gardaí told Independent.ie that the air patrols are taking place in Wicklow and other parts of the country as well.
"We would sometimes receive information that would lead us to conduct a fly over," he said.
The gangs responsible for stealing trees are becoming increasingly creative.
In some cases up to 100 trees will be illegally cut and then nailed back onto a stump until the following night when the suspect returns to take them away.
In other instances a vehicle drops off a group of men at night who using handsaws to cut down the trees so as to keep any noise made to a minimum.
An increase in the numbers of people purchasing real as opposed to fake trees has meant a rise in the number of attempted thefts of Christmas trees.
Christy Kavanagh of Kavanagh Christmas Trees in Newtownmountkennedy told Independent.ie that due to the increased security measures on his farm he has not had any incidents of theft this year.
"It's a combined effort between the Gardaí, the growers themselves taking precautions and the media highlighting the issue.
"The Gardaí launched Operation Hurdle three or four years ago and they've really hit it hard.
"The thieves are aware of the air patrols now," he said.
Kavanagh said that there's an "unreal" demand for real Christmas trees as people shun fake trees and opt for the genuine article.
"I think people are more aware of things like air miles and how far a fake tree may have travelled before it finds its way into your home.
"The good thing about real trees is that they are recycled instead of ending up in landfill," he said.
"We have web-cams on the farm with lights and sensors which trip if they sense any movement.
"I have to say the Gardai here in Wicklow are brilliant as well," Kavanagh added.
In the past year Kavanagh estimates that between 1,000 and 2,000 trees have been stolen in Wicklow.
"The people who steal Christmas trees, I call them the gentlemen that sleep during the day and work at night, are always on the lookout and if they see a group of trees they will pounce.
"At an average price of €50 per tree, that means growers are losing out on between €50,000 and €100,000.
"25 per cent of that is VAT so the exchequer is losing out as well," he said.
Irish Christmas tree growers plan to cut down and distribute about 550,000 trees this winter.
350,000 of them are destined for the domestic market with the remainder exported to European markets, including the UK, Germany and France.
The overall industry is said to be worth €21m to the Irish economy.