Gardai use air patrols to deter Christmas tree theft

Wicklow growers have motion detectors and hidden cameras to deter festive fir thefts

Many Christmas tree growers in Co Wicklow have temporary security personnel, motion detectors and hidden cameras to help deter thefts during the busy harvest period.

Many Christmas tree growers in Co Wicklow have temporary security personnel, motion detectors and hidden cameras to help deter thefts during the busy harvest period.

 

Gardaí have said their seasonal operation to combat gangs of Christmas tree farm raiders is in “full swing”, with regular air patrols keeping a close watch on remote plantations.

Many growers in Co Wicklow have temporary security personnel, motion detectors and hidden cameras to help deter thefts during the busy harvest period.

Supt Paul Hogan, who is based at Wicklow town garda station, said ‘Operation Hurdle’, now in its fourth year, is helping .

He said: “Back in 2011 a Christmas tree grower from Roundwood was tied up and robbed, so a delegation of farmers came to me and we decided enough was enough. We started working more closely together and we set up Operation Hurdle, which has worked very well and helped reduce the number of cases drastically.

“We have the assistance of the air corps unit and they’re able to cover large tracts of land and spot any suspicious activity. It’s a big deterrent and the focus is on prevention rather than catching people.

“We’ve upped our game, with regular patrols and more visibility in the Wicklow uplands area and the gangs know that we are now more pro-active than we used to be.

“As well as that, the growers themselves have put in their own security. Some of them have guys in caravans at the entrance to their farms keeping a lookout.

“These measures are needed because it takes the farmers about 10 years to grow a tree and this time of year they’re harvesting. It’s basically their livelihood that’s at stake at the moment, because everything is riding on the success of the harvest.”

Gangs that target the Wicklow farms tend to be either Dublin-based or local raiders more familiar with Co Wicklow’s rural terrain. Typically stolen trees would be sold on for up to €50 each.

Local grower Christy Kavanagh said he is invested heavily in security at his remote Newtownmountkennedy farm, where he’s harvesting up to 7,000 firs.

“I have 24 webcams set up on the farm, which are backed up to a smartphone,” he said.

Christmas tree growers are anticipating a bumper crop this year, with up to 550,000 firs expected to be harvested between now and early December — 50,000 more than last year.