Don't fall foul of Latvia's Christmas tree collection rules

With the arrival of December, the thoughts of many will turn to matters green and triangular, namely, Christmas trees and where to get hold of one.

While most people opt for a tree from a dedicated Christmas tree market or an artificial alternative, Latvians will delight in telling you about their right to take a suitable tree themselves from state-owned forests, if they are willing to go to the trouble of heading out into the wilderness to find one and transport it back home.

However, not all spruce trees are up for grabs.

Anyone wishing to exercise their right to a tree will need to go  to forests owned by state forestry company Latvijas valsts meži (Latvia's state forests, LVM) which even offers a mobile app (on Google Play and Itunes) to plan a spruce search route. Trees cannot be taken from private land without permission, from an area managed by a municipality (including Rīga's municipal forests) or from a nature protection zone.

A tree may be felled free of charge only in forests managed by LVM (look out for the distinctive yellow signs marking LVM land). It is forbidden to take trees from public nature parks and specially protected natural areas, which are marked by an oak leaf image on a green background. The tree stump diameter should be up to 12 centimeters at a height from the ground of 10 centimeters, which usually corresponds to a two- to three-meter-tall spruce.

You can safely look for your holiday decoration on the sides of forest roads, paths, on the sides of ditches, under power lines, as well as in mature forest where small spruces grow under large trees. On the other hand, it is strictly forbidden to cut Christmas trees in young stands of pine, spruce, black alder and mixed type. Cutting down Christmas trees is also prohibited in protected areas marked with an oak leaf sign.

An axe or a machete can be used, but a saw is most recommended, because the Christmas tree should be cut as close to the ground as possible. Bear in mind that during December and January inspectors and forest rangers will be on the lookout for people taking trees illegally either for their own use or for resale.

Forest-grown Christmas trees are usually not as symmetrical and bushy as those sold in retail outlets, which are specially grown and cared for in dedicated Christmas tree plantations, often in other countries. But there is a natural charm to a tree that has grown in natural conditions in Latvia itself.

LVM has plenty of information about what's legal and what's not, supplied in English as well as Latvian on the website www.lvm.lv.

But perhaps the most eco-friendly solution is to get a young tree grown in a pot which not only makes transport a lot easier but it can then be planted in the spring to grow naturally.

Rīga claims to be the home of the Christmas tree (a claim disputed by Tallinn in Estonia) but please don't make us write that story again for the umpteenth time.  

Choosing a Christmas tree from LVM forests

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