THIEVES stole more than 11,000 trees waiting to be planted at Delamere Forest, leaving forestry workers and police baffled.
On Sunday afternoon, a gang of thieves targeted a nursery near the forest, loading hundreds of trays of sapling trees into the back of a lorry. In total, 11,340 western red cedar trees were taken from the site where they were waiting to be planted in the forest.
The raid has left the Forestry Commission facing a hefty bill to replace the trees in time for the planting season.
In recent months thieves targeted forest nursery sites about 12 times, stealing trays of saplings to plant in their gardens or sell at markets and car boot sales.
But the scale of this weekend’s attack, which saw 275 trays of saplings stolen, has left the Forestry Commission and the police wondering what the thieves will do with thousands of trees which can reach up to 70 metres tall and will fill an area equivalent in size to eight football pitches when they are planted.
Richard Parsons of the Forestry Commission said: “It is a real shame with everything we are trying to do for the public that people would do something like this.
“We have had problems in the past but this time it is a lot of small trees to get rid of – they would cover about eight football pitches.”
Mr Parsons said the trees would cost the Forestry Commission about £4,000 to replace, with the cost of replacing the missing trays bringing the total bill up to almost £7,000 – money which could be spent elsewhere in maintaining the forest.
He said: “It could be an indication that times are hard and so people are stealing the trees to try and make some money, but this is the first time we have come across thefts of this sort of scale.”
PC David Walton of Cheshire Constabulary said the raid is believed to have been carried out by a gang of criminals in a lorry or truck.
“Someone knows where these trees are,” he said.
“If they are in your back garden or someone tries to sell you one please contact us immediately.”