There are widespread fears that a shortage of Christmas trees and higher prices could hit shoppers this Christmas in the latest fallout from the labour and supply chain difficulties facing the UK. It has also been a challenging year with low rainfall badly impacting this year’s growing season.
Preparations for Christmas are now in full swing at the historic estate, near York, with owner Stephen Wombwell saying: “Don’t panic about your tree”.
More than 20,000 Christmas trees are currently being readied for sale, through both the wholesale and retail market, as the estate gears up for the festive season.
Mr Wombwell said: “There is no doubt that post-Brexit regulations, backlogs at ports and a stretched labour market could lead to shortages, but it is worth remembering that only approximately one-tenth of real Christmas trees sold in the UK are imported.
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“Set against this, there is no doubt there will be a very high demand for Christmas trees this year, as there was last. We had a record-breaking year in 2020, selling over 20,000 trees, because everyone wanted a very special Christmas in the midst of the global Covid pandemic. I have no doubt it will be the same this year.
“One striking statistic last year was that at least 20 per cent of our customers had never bought a Christmas tree before. The predominant reason for this was that people felt that if ever there was a year to have a real Christmas tree then last year was it.”
His comments are backed up by the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, which believes there will be a higher demand for locally grown trees, not just because of the problem of importing trees from Europe, but also because more and more people are concerned about sustainability and want to buy a tree grown close to their homes.
However, the association warned about rising prices, with the costs of raw materials including wood for pallets, labour, fertiliser, labels and transport soaring.
Mr Wombwell said: “We are doing our level best not to pass any heavily increased costs on to our customers.
"This has been another challenging year for everyone and the impression I’m getting is that once again people want to bring a bit of festive cheer and to celebrate the best they can.
“Anecdotal evidence so far suggests that the sale of Christmas decorations has been swifter than ever again– and the quintessential Christmas decoration is the Christmas tree. We are already being inundated with enquiries.”
Mr Wombwell and his childhood friend, Will Standeven, have been growing Christmas trees on the estate for the last 10 years. Now they sell them in bulk across the North of England, as well as setting up special retail outlets at Newburgh Priory and Methley, near Leeds, and giving trees away free to local charities, hospices, churches and schools. The retail outlets will open in late November.
Mr Wombwell decided to start growing Christmas trees to diversify the estate’s income shortly after he took over the running of the priory from his father who retired in 2010. He is doing this below the tomb containing Oliver Cromwell’s headless body, which lies in the Newburgh attic. Mr Cromwell famously tried to ban Christmas.
He said: “If all goes well, I am hoping that in a few years’ time, up to 25 per cent of my income will come from selling trees, but at the moment it’s a waiting game.
"We’ve had nine years of growing trees with roughly £100,000 worth of outgoings a year.”
Newburgh is fast becoming one of the country's biggest Christmas tree growers with 260,000 trees across 120 acres.
Popular non-drop Nordmann fir trees make up 80 per cent of its crop, but Newburgh also grows a wide range of other trees including Fraser firs, Norway spruce, Serbian
spruce and Blue spruce.
All of the wholesale trees will be sold through Infinity Christmas Trees – a consortium it set up three years ago with a handful of other growers from across the UK. The aim is to sell premium quality trees that are sourced into the local area to reduce the environmental impact of Christmas tree distribution.
The operation at Newburgh employs three to four people full time but it can grow to up to 12 to 14 at peak seasonal times such as planting or harvesting. The number of jobs created throughout the year will continue to increase exponentially as the operation expands.
Mr Wombwell said: “We’re going to become a much more labour intensive business and it will end up being a sustainable source of employment."
There is also an online buying facility for the Newburgh retail outlet and click-and-collect for Methley.
Here are Newburgh's top five tips for getting the best out of your Christmas tree. A tree should last for six-seven weeks if you:
1. Choose fresh, well grown trees – it is worth spending a bit more as cheaper trees tend to be poorer quality and may have been cut weeks before.
2. Cut an inch of the bottom when you first buy your tree or take it inside
3. Only bring it inside when you are putting it up – otherwise stand it in a bucket of water
4. Keep it well watered all the time (a tree can drink more than a litre a day)
5. Avoid placing it near radiators, fires or on underfloor heating