Why a real Christmas tree is more fantastic than plastic

With customers demanding eco-friendly products and plastic reduction hitting headlines week after week, will 2019 signal the death of the artificial Christmas tree?

Christmas tree growers have long been promoting the ecological benefits of buying real Christmas trees. They hope that this festive season will see customers ditching the plastic in their droves – shunning the boxed-up, chemically formed structures in favour of naturally scented and lovingly grown firs and spruces.

As the nation’s focus is shifted onto plastic reduction by the media and the government pledges a zero-carbon producing country by 2050, there’s no doubt that the days of the artificial tree are limited.

A poll by Which? revealed that 69% of nearly 1,000 people surveyed said they would opt for a real tree, a number backed up by statistics from the British Christmas Tree Growers’ Association (BCTGA), who estimate that around 7million real trees are bought annually. BCTGA's Harry Brightwell at Downing Street for the Christmas tree competition

Harry Brightwell, secretary of the BCTGA, said that David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet effect” had drawn attention to the fact that plastic production is harming the environment in a huge way. He said: “Christmas tree growers have always been pushing the environmental benefits of real trees over artificial versions.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get people to put their words into action but the younger generation are really focused on reducing plastic – look at Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish girl who went on strike to protest about climate change. She has inspired other teenagers to strike too and we’re hoping this Christmas they’ll apply pressure on their parents to buy a real tree!”

As well as reducing plastic use, buying a real tree means transport-related CO2 production is lowered  (most plastic trees are shipped in from China, whereas most British-grown trees are sold to the home market and never leave the country or even the county they are grown in.

In addition, Harry highlights the biological benefits of growing crops of trees which are replaced year-on-year. “Tree pump oxygen into the air and provide food for bees and other insects. Sometimes public perception is that cutting down trees is a bad thing, but if it weren’t for the Christmas tree market they wouldn’t have been planted in the first place. They are a crop which gets replanted.”

Your regular 6ft Christmas tree is around 10 years old, and has been nurtured by a grower through the seasons – watering, pruning, fertilising and shaping the trees is all in a day’s work for a grower.

The 2019 Christmas tree growing season

Harry says he’s just come back from the Christmas Tree Growers Council of Europe (CTGCE) AGM in Austria, and found the weather has affected some countries more than the UK. He said: “The weather here has been quite good for the trees – they’re looking and growing well. We had a warm spell earlier in the year, in February, and thought summer had come early – but that was following by frosts in late May which damaged some crops.

“Most growers in the UK escaped frost damage but those in the north of Scotland and in parts of Europe didn’t fare so well – some younger trees that weren’t well-established were damaged quite badly by the frosts.

“Here, the rain we’ve had in the spring has helped and we’ve had some sunny weather but it hasn’t been too hot. As long as the summer isn’t too warm the younger trees will be OK. Last summer there was just no rainfall in the UK for a while.

“In Europe the temperatures have hit over 36º but once the trees are established it’s OK.” REAL Christmas tree - recycling tree image

And how has Brexit affected the trade?

Although most trees grown across Europe stay within their country of origin, some cheaper varieties are imported and exported. As Brexit looms and the possibility of tariffs on imports threatens to push up the price of such imports, the effect may be that retailers opt for British-grown varieties instead.

And as Britain prepares to leave the E.U., the BCTGA has in fact taken over the presidency of the CTGCE for the next term.

Downing Street competition

Part of being a member of the BCTGA involves networking, travelling and, of course, a bit of good old-fashioned competition.

Each year, the association holds an event where members are invited to show off their finest tree – this year it will be held in Solihull on 30 October. The grower with the finest specimen is invited to supply the Downing Street Christmas tree. Last year’s winner was John Junor, of Farr North Christmas Trees, who attended the lights switch-on with Theresa May.

Other events include open farm visits and the next date for the calendar, in September, will see members visit the Isle of Man to look at growing methods there and find out how growers have adapted to the overall rise in temperature in the area.

Harry says global warming has affected growers and is an issue around which much discussion rages – another reason, if one was needed, for the public to steer clear of artificial trees this year and opt for the eco-friendly alternative.

Find a range of REAL Christmas tree suppliers at the British Christmas Tree Growers’ Association website.