Christmas trees - getting value for money

The British Christmas Tree Growers Association looks at the supply of Christmas trees in the UK and the importance for authorities of sourcing them locally

The British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) was established in 1980 by a pioneering group of 48 members who were keen to improve the quality of the product they grew and to ensure that customers buying trees from them got value for money.

In those early years Christmas trees mainly came from forestry plantations as a seasonal cash crop or were imported from Europe but some growers were already looking to improve the quality of the produce and the service to the customer by growing Christmas trees as a crop. This presented new technical challenges but also opportunities for innovation and development.

Thirty seven years later the core aims of the association remain: to promote the sales of real Christmas trees; provide marketing information for our members; and encourage the exchange or information and ideas.

The association is run by a management committee of 18 members drawn from throughout the UK supply chain and still includes one of the founder committee members, Peter Strawson. As the industry has evolved the association has grown from the initial 48 members in 1980 to around 350 members today, all of whom are involved in some way in the supply of fresh Christmas trees to the UK market. The members are located throughout the UK and range in scale from small businesses selling a few hundred trees a year up to large wholesale growers growing hundreds of thousands of trees per year. Members sell all sizes of trees from seedlings and small pot grown trees 30 or 60cm up to mighty specimen trees of 20 metres or more.

Today the UK is almost self sufficient in supply of Christmas trees with between five and six million trees grown annually in the UK. The dominant species is now Nordmann fir but Norway spruce, Fraser fir, Noble fir, Lodgepole pine and Corkbark fir are also grown by members. The industry has evolved considerably and growers are continuously working to produce better quality trees through improved understanding of the seed sources, ground preparation, nutrition, pest control and shaping of the trees. There has been considerable investment in specialist machinery for cultivating Christmas tree plantations and in harvesting trees. Great effort has been invested into making sure the trees reach the market in good condition in the minimum time.

Recent innovations have been mechanical tree cutters to speed up the felling of the trees and palletising machines to net and pack the trees onto pallets to allow efficient and speedy handling from the field to the customer. Responsible producers work hard to ensure the trees are left for 48 to 72 hours after cutting and before they are netted so they are fully dormant before they are packed into pallets, this ensures the trees are in the best possible condition when they reach the customers.

Champion Grower
The association runs a programme of technical and field trials to improve as well as field visits for members throughout the year with the main event being the annual show and competition day in October which attracts nearly 200 members.

At the competition day members bring specially selected trees which are displayed and judged for the prestigious title of ‘Champion Grower’ which brings the right to supply a tree for Number 10 Downing Street with the ‘Runner up Grower’ also supplying Number 11.

Last year, for the first time ever, Stewart Kirkup of Dartmoor Christmas trees was Champion Grower, and Runner up Grower whilst his wife Jenny won the Champion Festive Wreath and was runner up meaning their business has completed an unprecedented clean sweep.

This year the competition is being held in Yorkshire on 19 October and we are hoping for record levels of entries and some fierce but friendly rivalry to be crowned the champion grower of 2017.

The BCTGA has developed their website and offers buyers the facility to ‘buy a tree near you’ and ‘buy trees in bulk near you’ as well as ‘search for Christmas trees and accessories’. These options allow prospective buyers to type in their postcode or address and then specify a search distance to find growers and sellers of fresh British Christmas trees locally to them.

The BCTGA website has a section containing information for buyers which provides ‘technical information on tree types, care of trees, tree stands and accessories’. In addition, secretary Harry Brightwell is available to answer questions about specific issues.

As our knowledge of environmental impacts increases the BCTGA as responsible growers are always working to improve the sustainability of our product. We conduct trials to find the best methods for growing trees and to minimise the environmental impacts. Buying locally can reduce the carbon footprint whilst responsible recycling

Recycling of Christmas trees has also continued to develop with people being encouraged to: take trees to green recycling centres; have them mulched to use in their gardens; use the tree to create a wildlife habitat in their garden; chop them into kindling and firewood to use in the their home; and contact Charity Xmas Tree Collection to use your Christmas tree to help local charities.

Perhaps the most unusual use has been by zoos, last year Dudley Zoo used recycled Christmas trees for their animals to play in, whilst Linton Zoo in Norfolk used them for their lions and zoos in Germany were appealing for trees for their elephants to play with.

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