One of the great symbols of Christmas the holly tree may be disappearing from the Irish countryside.

The distinctive red berries and dark green foliage of the holly tree are associated with Christmas almost as much as Santa Claus. This native shrub has grown in our hedgerows and woodlands for centuries, but if care is not taken now it may vanish entirely from the countryside, say environmentalists.  

The seasonal demand for holly wreaths and boughs has resulted in holly being almost eradicated from the Irish countryside, without ever being properly replaced. Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey is concerned that it will disappear forever,  

The beautiful female holly tree with its lovely red berries has practically become extinct in certain tracts.

Organic farmers are calling on the Department of Agriculture to support holly being grown sustainably for the commercial market. Jim McNamara urges people to plant holly trees in their gardens, instead of buying branches which have been taken from wild plants and bushes,  

Then you have real landscape growing, living landscape, which is even better than anything that you might bring in which will wither.

Just this week Arts and Heritage Minister Síle De Valera signed the Wildlife Act 2000 into law, which gives her the authority to manage commercial exploitation of certain species of flora. By next Christmas she may well have to enforce those powers to protect the famous holly bush. 

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 23 December 2000. The reporter is Cathy Halloran.