Special branch operation cuts down on Wicklow Christmas tree thefts as sales hit €22m
A Garda operation set-up to prevent the theft of Christmas tress from farms in Wicklow has been hailed as a great success after planters enjoyed a bumper year.
No thefts were reported during the festive season as Operation Hurdle, which incorporates the Garda Síochána Air Support unit and ground officers, targeted criminal gangs looking to steal trees from growers in the county.
The problem led to a number of Christmas tree growers in Wicklow sleeping in caravans near their crop to protect them from thieves in 2015.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Operation Hurdle which has been running since 2011 has dramatically driven down tree thefts in Co Wicklow.
Prior to Operation Hurdle, launched by Gardai and the Growers, criminal gangs had successfully plundered numerous farms across the country, snatching more than 2,000 festive trees annually and costing growers as much as €100,000.
A bumper 450,000 trees were sold throughout the island of Ireland this year with at least a further 200,000 being exported to European markets, such as Denmark, Germany, France and the UK, which is a continued yearly increase.
Christy Kavanagh, chairman of the Christmas Trees Growers Association, confirmed sales were in excess of €22 million this year.
PHOTOT: Tony Kinlan and Seamus Kinlan with Andrew Doyle, Minister of State for Food, Forestry Horticulture, on a Christmas Tree farm in Wicklow. Pic: Chris Bellew /Fennell