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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 December 2007, 12:44 GMT
Latvia battles fir tree raiders
By Laura Sheeter
BBC News, Riga

Latvia map
Forest rangers in Latvia say they are being overwhelmed by large numbers of people illegally cutting down Christmas trees near the capital Riga.

The number of wild Christmas trees is dwindling fast in the city's protected forest, the rangers say.

The rangers say they are catching at least 20 people daily - but do not have enough staff to catch everyone.

Latvians are allowed to cut down trees in designated national forest, 50km (31 miles) from Riga.

The city claims to be the home of the world's first Christmas tree - and Latvia has a strong tradition of people going out into the forest to cut down their own tree.

The Latvian media say the tree-hunting problem is especially bad this year because of inflation - the highest rate in the European Union.

They report that the cost of a Christmas tree has gone up at least 10% since last year.

But those caught cutting down a Christmas tree in protected woodland face a fine of up to 491 lats (504; $1,000), the media report.



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