GARDAÍ IN THE greater Wicklow area are gearing up to launch their seasonal operation targeting Christmas tree thieves.
Operation Hurdle was started in 2011 by local Superintendent Paul Hogan after a tree farmer in Roundwood was tied up at his home and robbed.
“It takes seven to eight years for a tree to come to maturity to be sold. They put a lot of work into it, years of investment, blood, sweat and tears can disappear overnight,” Hogan told TheJournal.ie.
In the lead-up to Christmas, criminals are out to make a quick buck.
“So we set up the operation in the run-up to Christmas, the end of November and the month of December, and we try to be more proactive so as to prevent the theft of trees. We work with the Christmas tree growers and they’ll report any incidents or suspicious activity in the vicinity of their homes or in the woods”.
From the end of next month there will be an increased garda presence around tree farms and this visibility has been key in driving down this type of crime.
Christy Kavanagh, who owns a Christmas tree farm in Glandarragh, has been involved in Operation Hurdle from the beginning. Before it began, he said it is estimated there were over 2,000 trees a year stolen in the greater Wicklow area, costing farmers as much as €100,000.
Many farmers invested in security cameras around their land or hired private security firms to patrol the area. Others resorted to sleeping in caravans in the woods to deter thieves.
“It’s a huge financial loss for us if they’re stolen,” Kavanagh explained. “We have VAT to pay, we have bills to pay like everyone else. 100% of our income comes from producing Christmas trees.”
Since Operation Hurdle started, there has been “practically no theft at all”, he said.
We’re over the moon with it, we sleep better at night and we’re able to do our jobs better during the day instead of being worried sick.
“The local guards are on the roads every night, they call into the farms at night to see if everything is okay. It gives you peace of mind.”