Where buying a tree is for conservation not just for Christmas

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Bull with colleagues Charlotte Hudson (left) and Chelsea Modest with some smaller Christmas trees behind a damaged dry stone wall
Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Bull with colleagues Charlotte Hudson (left) and Chelsea Modest with some smaller Christmas trees behind a damaged dry stone wall

The enemy of a Christmas tree is a warm cosy room, it’s said. Ideal conditions then for Mark Bull as he sat through December nearly 30 years ago in a freezing caravan with leaks in the roof.

The enemy of a Christmas tree is a warm cosy room, it’s said. Ideal conditions then for Mark Bull as he sat through December nearly 30 years ago in a freezing caravan with leaks in the roof.

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Attwood (left) and volunteer Chris Morgan with a variety of Christmas trees on a path in need of repair for pushchair users being helped by Lara Ventour (2) and mum Liz Roberts

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Attwood (left) and volunteer Chris Morgan with a variety of Christmas trees on a path in need of repair for pushchair users being helped by Lara Ventour (2) and mum Liz Roberts

“I’m surprised the head ranger didn’t have us straightening nails as we waited for customers,” said Mark, remembering his old-school predecessor, Bernard Hill, who began the tradition of the Christmas tree sales at Longshaw in the 1970s by selling off the estate’s small Scots Pines, which had been used as ‘nursery’ trees to protect new oak saplings.

In those early days, a handful of trees a day were sold, but last year Mark and the team of National Trust rangers and volunteers sold over 1,000 trees at Longshaw, with all profits going back to the countryside of the Peak District.

“People come here because they know that buying a tree from us will help conservation work,” said Mark. “It could help us repair a path so people with pushchairs and wheelchairs can get around easier, or mend a dry stone wall to keep livestock off the roads, or plant some new trees in the local countryside. Buying a typical Christmas tree from Longshaw would allow us to plant six or seven new oak saplings, for example.”

Mark took over the Christmas tree project 20 years ago, and Longshaw now sells a variety of tree types such as Norway and Blue Spruce, and Fraser Firs as well as the ‘non-drop’ Nordman.

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Attwood with one of the hand made reindeer

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Attwood with one of the hand made reindeer

“The Spruce actually smell a lot nicer than the Nordmans, and will easily last three or four weeks if they’re cut fresh, kept cool before you put them in your room, and then watered regularly,” said Mark, adding that many budget commercial trees will have been cut early in November.

Longshaw trees come either straight from the estate or other Peak District nurseries, with some also brought in from other sustainably managed UK growers to meet demand, said Mark. Customers can reserve a tree in Longshaw’s own tree nursery to be cut closer to Christmas, or choose from a range of types and sizes to take away.

“Last year we had to help a woman lash a 12-foot tree on the top of her Range Rover,” said volunteer Chris Morgan. “It turned out she was taking it all the way home to Putney.”

Mark has got to know generations of families over the years. Children who used to come along with their grandparents are now bringing their own children, he said, and some buyers of rooted trees tell him they now have copses of Longshaw firs growing in their gardens.

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Bull (left) and volunteer Chris Morgan in the tree nursery

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Bull (left) and volunteer Chris Morgan in the tree nursery

“It’s much more of a family day out coming here rather than the supermarket,” said Mark. “You can take Grandma and Grandad to the cafe, as we say ‘buy a tree, get a free cup of tea’, and you can take the kids on our Christmas trail to find reindeer sculptures hiding in the woods. This year we’ve even got a colouring competition where the best entry will win their own small Christmas tree.”

Family shopping in December brings its own challenges for the rangers and volunteers, he added. “We find men sometimes keeping a close eye on their wallets, whereas women usually have very clear ideas of what kind of tree they want for the family. We occasionally have to go in and break them apart before restarting negotiations.”

People are now thinking carefully about their tree provenance as well as price, said Mark. Fellow ranger Chris Milner added that last year’s sales brought in enough funding to conserve the semi-ancient Oxhay Wood, near Padley, where restoring the walls and fences now keeps out stray livestock so the young trees can thrive in an ideal environment for bluebells, woodpeckers and rare birds like redstarts and flycatchers.

“People tell us they like to put something back by buying a tree from us,” said Mark. “You could say your tree is not just for Christmas, it’s supporting your local countryside throughout the year.”

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Bull with colleagues Charlotte Hudson (right) and Chelsea Modest with some smaller Christmas trees behind a damaged dry stone wall

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Bull with colleagues Charlotte Hudson (right) and Chelsea Modest with some smaller Christmas trees behind a damaged dry stone wall

Visit Longshaw, Burbage and the Eastern Moors for details.

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Attwood (right) and volunteer Chris Morgan with a variety of Christmas trees by one of the paths to be repaired

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Attwood (right) and volunteer Chris Morgan with a variety of Christmas trees by one of the paths to be repaired

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Bull with colleagues Charlotte Hudson (left) and Chelsea Modest with some smaller Christmas trees behind a damaged dry stone wall

Longshaw Christmas trees: National Trust Ranger Mark Bull with colleagues Charlotte Hudson (left) and Chelsea Modest with some smaller Christmas trees behind a damaged dry stone wall