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Last Updated: Monday, 12 December 2005, 07:20 GMT
Festive mistletoe shortage fears
mistletoe bunch
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant and thrives on apple trees
Mistletoe rustlers in Wales are threatening to steal more than just a kiss from revellers this Christmas.

Conservationists are warning that enterprising sellers, keen to make festive pocket money, could be wiping out the plant in some areas.

Mistletoe was once widespread throughout most of Wales, but is particularly scarce this year.

Gemma Bode, conservation manager with Gwent Wildlife Trust, said greedy sellers were taking too much.

If people have mistletoe on trees they should obviously not take the whole plant
Gemma Bode, Gwent Wildlife Trust

Areas like Monmouthshire, Torfaen, and Newport - which are covered by the trust - used to be excellent areas to find the seasonal parasitic plant, which particularly likes living on old apple trees.

However, mistletoe is being taken in large quantities from orchards, hedgerows and ancient trees, and sold at markets.

Part of the problem is that too much is being torn off, leaving little left on the host tree to produce future plants.

"There are cases of mistletoe rustling, and once the whole plant has been removed from its host tree it won't grow back again because of its quite complex life cycle," Ms Bode said.

"We are not sure how much mistletoe is affected by its annual cut, but if people have mistletoe on trees they should obviously not take the whole plant - just little cuttings.

"We want people to appreciate how mistletoe got on to the tree and the fact that it is becoming less common now."

Felling trees

Another threat to mistletoe is the loss of its favourite habitat - old orchards.

"Apple trees are the plant's favourite hosts and we have lost a lot of old orchards either due to individual landowners clearing them, seeing no value to them anymore, or to make way for new houses and roads," Ms Bode added.

Mistletoe grows as a parasite on the soft bark of certain trees, but particularly favours apple.

Mistletoe can be propagated but the success rate is low, meaning the industry relies heavily on supplies from the wild.

Good crops of mistletoe can still be found in parts of Monmouthshire.

Gwent Wildlife Trust is urging land-owners and farmers to work with the ecologists employed by their local councils to help protect mistletoe from the threats it faces - and help wildlife at the same time.

European mistletoe bug strikes
23 Dec 03 |  Somerset

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