The roots of a recycling venture in Boroughbridge

“There was a Christmas tree slap bang in the middle of our field one January. It hadn’t just grown from nothing – and it would have been remarkable if it had, because we were expecting a harvest of corn later that year – it had been put there, I’m guessing, as a kind of joke.

“As it was in the middle, I didn’t go and get rid of it that day. The next day another one appeared!”

Whether it was someone’s sense of humour, or it was an example of extreme fly tipping, this was a comment I received when I was guest speaker for a young farmers club meeting in the East Riding many moons ago.

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And while this could well have been some kind of high jinks from a fellow young farmer, it also served to address a problem that sometimes exists – what to do with your real Christmas tree once the festivities are over – and another increasingly prevalent issue of fly tipping.

Christmas Tree collection by Boroughbridge Young Farmers Club around local villages.

Boroughbridge YFC came up with this socially responsible answer three years ago when they began offering their services in assisting with the Great Christmas Tree Exodus of 2018. Last Sunday they gathered once again, armed with tractors, trailers, pick-ups and protective gloves to rid Boroughbridge and all neighbouring villages including as far as Whixley, Green Hammerton and Burton Leonard of the last remnants of the festivities.

They’re not the only organisation in Yorkshire who have plundered this sector. Scout troops and other organisations including sports clubs have realised this is a useful way of earning funds for their organisations and for charities. Boroughbridge YFC’s chosen charity was Macmillan cancer care this year and last weekend they raised over £2,100 in their collection of 400 trees.

“For us it has become something we can have a good bit of fun together, while also raising money for great charities,” says Boroughbridge YFC chairman and young farmer George Gill of Lowfield Grange Farm in Langthorpe. “It’s a social event for us and at the same time also raises our profile and hopefully shows we are doing some good for society. It’s a real example of recycling too, as all the trees go to a farm at Marton-cum-Grafton where they get chipped and then go into bedding for cattle.

“When we put our advertisement up on Facebook we had 8,500 views and we also delivered 2,500 leaflets in the area the Monday before Christmas. We’ve doubled our numbers since we started and around 30-40 club members are involved on the day.”

It’s all well and good receiving the requests, but someone has to ensure that everything goes sweetly on the day and that comes down to organisation, the logistics. That’s where George’s girlfriend and club secretary, Alice Birch, comes in. “Anyone thinking of setting up something like this needs someone who has a good brain and can ensure there is order to the day,” says George.

“Alice has the hardest job, going through all the messages, that were coming in this year at a rate of 15 per hour at times, logging all the addresses and postcodes and putting them all on maps so that every tree is picked up across the three teams. She’s very well organised and we’d be lost without her.”

Finding new ways of connecting with like-minded young people is a continuing battle for the young farmers’ movement nationally, with an ever-decreasing number of young people coming from farming backgrounds due to less available employment in the industry.

Two years ago the organisation took a media nosedive when the national conference held at Blackpool received a bad press.

“It has been a tough few years for the movement in general,” says George, who is also an executive representative at county level. “But we still have a strong club at Boroughbridge and our district, that also includes clubs in Easingwold, Tadcaster & Wetherby, Escrick and Derwent is always very positive.

“It’s horrible to see negativity, such as how it was reported at Blackpool, when there is so much that is positive about young farmers. I remember being two weeks into being 10 years old when I went to my first meeting. I’m 25 now, but that first one in some ways seems like it was just yesterday.”

George is following a fine family tradition that also saw his father, Paul, and grandfather, Les, as members of the club, but he’s already looking beyond it to the next organisation that is growing in strength throughout Yorkshire.

“I have now started attending Future Farmers of Yorkshire which meets regularly at The Pavilions of Harrogate. I get to meet different, but again, like-minded people from all over the county. I recently attended the Fit4Farming event where mental health was discussed. It’s a major issue. Farmers often see talking about problems as a weakness.”