A Christmas tree farm in York is rolling out a string of green initiatives as customers become increasingly aware of the impact of the holiday season on the environment.
York Christmas Trees is using newly developed biodegradable netting, has replaced plastic bags with paper ones and is also offering a free tree recycling service once Christmas is done and dusted.
Oliver Combe, who with his wife Kirstie, owns the business, said the initiatives were driven by their customers.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he said: “The demand for natural trees is increasing slowly but customers are much more aware now of the environmental credentials of what they’re buying.
“That’s been a change over the last three or four years in customer’s buying habits.”
The farm planted its first Christmas trees in 1998 and started selling them from 2003. The whole farm is 250 acres with 80 acres of it used for Christmas trees.
Sustainability is at the heart of the family-run business, Mr Combe says, because it’s all about making good use of the land.
He added: “We try every year to sit down after Christmas and look at what we can do to make our business more sustainable.
“My wife and I have got three children, one of whom is desperate to be involved in the business.
“We’re planting trees, that’s a ten-year commitment. We’ve got to sit and think about how we make that work.”
In addition to the paper bags, biodegradable netting and tree recycling, York Christmas Trees has been focusing on better soil management as well.
The farm is using a smaller tractor to reduce ground damage and has reduced chemical use as well.
Environmental concerns are at the forefront of the whole industry’s mind.
Mr Combe, who is a former chairman of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, says the biodegradeable netting was driven by the sector as a whole. He added: “None of us are a big enough buyer to encourage a manufacturer to go out and develop something like that on our own. It’s hideously expensive because this is the first year.”
York Christmas Trees is both a wholesale and retail business. It’s tree barn opens on November 25 and closes at around 4pm on December 24.
“The beauty of this business is that I do wholesale and I also do retail,” Mr Combe said. “I spend quite a lot of time with customers.
“For 11 months of the year I’m not allowed to talk about trees but for one month of the year I have free licence.
“I ask the customers, what can we do to make it better. One of the things that came out strongly was recycling.”
The farm aims to plant around 20,000 trees a year but there are losses along the way as a result of the elements.
Drought was an issue last year. This year the farm has had problems with flooding on some of the lower lying patches.
York Christmas Trees sells around 10,000 and 11,000 trees a year, through both wholesale and retail.
The company is gearing up for one of its busiest weekends of the year for retail customers. It will sell trees right up to Christmas Eve.
Mr Combe said: “There’s a lot of people in York who work away. They will ring us and say, ‘can you reserve us a tree for December 23 or December 24’. Then you get the last minute people, where something has gone wrong and they ring you on Christmas Eve saying, ‘please can I have a tree’. I always leave one patch in the field by the farm uncut and I dive into that if there’s any emergencies.”
‘Christmas trees is a full-time job’
Post-Christmas may be a quiet time for sales but not for operations at the farm.
Oliver Combe said: “Christmas trees is a full-time job. Generally, the minute we finish Christmas we have the week off. Then we will start tidying up.”
This year the business will be welcoming used trees in the first two weeks of January for recycling. The trees will be chipped, mixed up with cow manure and bacteria to make a mulch. As the ground begins to dry in March, the process of planting new trees starts with fertiliser being put down.
The business then has to turn its attention to the maintenance of the trees.