Christmas is just around the corner, but how have tree growers been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? Forestry Journal spoke to Heather Parry, managing agent for the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, to find out.

CHRISTMAS is not cancelled. That’s the message the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) is projecting on behalf of its members, with the sector gearing up for what it expects to be its busiest ever season.

2020 has been difficult. It seems that people are eager to put this year behind them as soon as possible, and what better way than to kick off Christmas early? Orders for UK trees from garden centres and farm shops are already significantly ahead of 2019, BCTGA has reported, and prolonged sunshine through the summer months has produced top-quality trees.

Now representing upwards of 320 members, BCTGA offers support to growers across the UK and promotes quality, natural Christmas trees. The association came under new management earlier this year when the Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS), organiser of the Great Yorkshire Show, took it on.

“We only took over running the association in July and I’ve never learnt so much about trees,” managing agent, Heather Parry, told Forestry Journal. “The loveliest thing is the members are a very supportive group. They are the friendliest bunch of absolute enthusiasts who are passionate about growing the best trees and learning from each other about how they do things.”

Forestry Journal: Heather Parry.Heather Parry.

It would have been impossible to predict earlier in the year the huge impact COVID-19 would have on normal Christmas tree growing and sales. The pandemic has led many growers to change the way they sell, branching out into online sales, click and collect, and deliveries. Those selling at plantations have implemented social distancing measures.

READ MORE: Award-winning grower provides Christmas tree for 10 Downing Street

“COVID-19 will still be here at Christmas, but I think, more than ever, consumer behaviour is about buying local, buying quality, and having a good time – but in smaller groups,” explained Heather. “So, what we believe is going to happen, and the trends we are seeing already with sales going up, is that more people are having Christmas at home, rather than going to stay with in-laws or whatever else, and we actually expect more trees to be sold this year. More people will have a tree in their house rather than going away and doing something else.”

Sales from garden centres have been very good, as have those from wholesalers, Heather said, adding: “We are having a different Christmas, but I think consumers, more than ever, want to have a good time. They want this year behind them.”

The biggest concern right now is that everything is in a state of flux. “We’ve got to try and work with our members to show what the options are. It’s about signage, sanitising, getting a secure space for each grower – all those things to give the consumer confidence – but also ensuring that the busy days can be less peaky, and trying to get people in earlier or on weekdays, and just how to monitor the flow of people coming in so it doesn’t get too crowded in a grower’s plantation.”

It’s all about making things safe, Heather said. And the fact that the trees are all outside is one big box ticked. “It’s much easier to do things that are outside in the fresh air. They are socially distanced by the nature of being well spaced. A lot of the growers are doing ‘choose and cut’ – which means you can go in from around October, wander around the plantation, choose the actual tree you want, say the day you want it cut and then go and pick it up, so you’ve got a nice day out with the family.

“You can go and choose and cut now, you can ask for a delivery, you can choose the variety and size and the grower delivers it to you. Some are doing deliveries themselves, some are doing it nationwide with a courier, so if you don’t want to leave your house, if you are shielding, you can still get a beautiful tree from a local grower but in a very different way.

“I think Christmas is all about the experience, so it’s how to make the experience good whether you do choose and cut or whether you go up in December and it’s socially distanced, you can have fun choosing your tree in the same way you always do but just with extra COVID-19 securities around you.

“There is obviously an underlying concern about what stage of lockdown or semi-lockdown growers’ areas will be in, but we haven’t got control of that. The things we have got control of, we are actually feeling very positive about. This year has been perfect growing conditions – the trees have never looked better. So, if ever there was a year to choose a real Christmas tree, this is the year to do it.

“I think it will still be a lovely experience, it will just be a slightly different experience, but that’s 2020, isn’t it?”

Forestry Journal: The team at Cadeby Tree Trust.The team at Cadeby Tree Trust.


Christmas tree wholesaler and grower Cadeby Tree Trust in Nuneaton, Warwickshire supplies farm shops and garden centres across the country. Sharon Scamell-Katz, sales manager, said: “After such an unprecedented year, Christmas is the one thing we can focus on and look forward to, and orders from our retailers are already 28 per cent up compared to last year. There’s more of a drive to purchase UK-grown Christmas trees and any retailers with click and collect online are putting in higher orders as consumer habits have changed because of COVID.”

Stuart Kirkup of the award-winning Dartmoor Christmas Trees, in Devon, said orders for its trees are also up: “Everything is looking very positive this year. We are retailers and wholesalers and a lot of our garden centres have increased their orders from us – I would say 70 per cent of them.

“I think people will start buying earlier this year; we are anticipating the last weekend in November to be very busy. People will want to bring Christmas forward and put an end to the year.”

With consumer trends changing, Rory Young from Scottish Christmas Trees in Dumfries said it’s important the public are aware that they can also buy their real Christmas trees online. “We would say: buy British, buy local to support local businesses, and don’t forget there is always the option to buy online which is something that a lot of local retailers are likely to be offering this year.”

Colin Palmer, BCTGA’s independent forestry expert, highlighted the quality of this year’s crop, thanks to the weather: “Across the UK, the trees have just loved the prolonged sunshine, broken by spells of intermittent rain, that we’ve experienced this year. They have grown well and are a lovely dark green where nutrient levels have remained constant.

“The gold standard for freshness is to buy the tree from a grower retailer, and even better if you can choose your tree while still growing in the plantation – for what can be fresher than a newly harvested tree?”

Forestry Journal:


NORDMANN FIR: This is the most popular Christmas tree in the UK as it has excellent needle retention, with lush, dark green needles. They are symmetrical trees with strong branches, great for displaying ornaments. 

FRASER FIR: These pyramid-shaped trees have great fragrance with dark green needles that are silvery underneath. Good needle retention, strong branches which turn upward. 

NOBLE FIR: Ideal for great needle retention and a fresh fragrance. With bluish-green needles and short, stiff branches, this tree is great for heavier ornaments. Keeps well.

DOUGLAS FIR: probably the strongest scent of all Christmas trees, very popular in the USA. A true fir with great shape but a little harder to decorate with baubles as usually much denser.

NORWAY SPRUCE: Keep them well watered for good needle retention and enjoy this traditional Christmas tree which is a dark green colour with a strong fragrance and great conical shape.

BLUE SPRUCE: Beautiful, unique blue colouring, needs watering well and has good stiff branches, great for hanging heavy decorations. An ideal small or second tree. much denser.


A low-needle-drop tree with beautiful tapering branches that rarely lose their needles if well hydrated. The needles are green/yellow in colour. The traditionalist’s Christmas tree.

SERBIAN SPRUCE: Tall and slender, with graceful upswept branches. It has glossy, dark green needles with slender streaks of white; a very good ornamental alternative.

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