POLICE have pledged to beef up patrols around garden centres and tree nurseries across north Hampshire in a bid to tackle thefts of Christmas trees.
Operation Tinsel has been launched today following 181 reported Christmas tree thefts in the area last year.
This included 82 trees stolen overnight on December 1, 2011 from the Sherfield-on-Loddon Garden Centre, in Wildmoor Lane. Elsewhere across the county 49 trees were stolen from a nursery in Wickham, and 50 from a compound in Fleet.
Hampshire Constabulary believes a nationwide shortage of Christmas trees this year could result in a rise in thefts.
Sergeant Ally Hibberd, said: "Due to the recent mixed climate across Europe there will be a decrease in the number of Christmas trees available for sale on the open market. The reduced supply may result in thefts of Christmas trees as offenders will see this as an opportunity to meet the seasonal demand."
Officers from Hampshire Constabulary will mark trees with a security marker, SmartWater, as well as installing other security measures to help police track down stolen trees.
Officers also say they will step up patrols around Christmas tree plantations and team up with Hampshire Trading Standards to catch out people selling Christmas trees illegally.
Sergeant Hibberd added: "Stolen trees can cost law abiding retailers hundreds of pounds and have a serious impact upon their businesses. Some trees may be forensically or security marked, making it easier for police to trace them. I would urge members of the community to ensure they are buying their trees from reputable retailers."