Goosestep guard keeps watch in Christmas forest

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The Independent Online
The Romans employed them to save the city from marauding Gauls. Now British Christmas tree growers want cackling geese to combat tree-rustlers.

The British Christmas Tree Growers Association warned yesterday that thieves could use next week's full moon for lightning raids on plantations. Large-scale pilfering could push small growers into bankruptcy.

"A full moon makes it much easier for thieves. If it's dark, it's obviously more difficult to pick up the trees," said Tony Richardson, the association's secretary. "There isn't a dark night until 10 December after which we'll be fairly safe.

"Losses are very important to the small grower. Those who only have two or three thousand trees and get 200 or so pinched can be pushed to the edge."

One of the best means of protection is geese. Geoffrey Field of East Sussex, a grower for more than 20 years, employs eight geese to watch his two acres of trees. "They are a great deterrent," said Mr Field. "A lot of people are terrified of geese, particularly if they have been chased by one as a child. They find them very nasty."

In Wales, Dyfed-Powys police have urged residents to be on the look out for thieves. Some 2,000 farmers in a network of "Farm Watch" schemes are being asked to report suspicious vehicles. "We need to take more care than usual," added Mr Richardson, a retired general. "The problem with Christmas trees is when they have been pinched it is jolly difficult to identify them as yours."

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