There’s nothing like 15,000 Christmas trees to get you into the holiday mood, as for many of us, picking out a festive fir signals the start of the holiday season.
Unsurprisingly it’s the busiest time of the year for Alastair and Diane Lucking, who run Love A Christmas Tree in Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire. They started growing trees in the fields near their house in 2013, and two years later decided to let customers rent trees as an alternative to buying a single use cut one.
“The renting idea evolved from a eureka moment whilst on holiday,” says Alastair.
“It covered two aspirations, to be more environmental than any current tree offering – real or plastic – and creating a business disrupter product for the Christmas tree market.”
The Luckings import saplings from Denmark and replant them, letting them get tall enough to rent out. They’re grown in special containers with tiny holes around the side, which allows the smaller roots to grow into the surrounding soil.
When the trees are harvested those smaller roots break off, but the majority of the roots stay in the pot, which makes replanting relatively easy.
“When the trees are replanted they continue to grow, and some people rent the same tree each year,” says Alastair.
“We tie a tag to each one with a number, and name, and record it in a book. One of our customers has a young family member who measures his height against the tree each year to see how much he’s grown.”
Prices vary according to size but a 1.5m (5ft) tree costs £30 to rent. Trees are delivered from the beginning of December, and are picked back up from customers in the first week of January when they’re replanted.
“We have 1,500 trees available to rent this year. Customers love having a real live tree, but they hate having to take it to the skip to be chipped at the end of Christmas,” says Alastair.
He and Diane are also working on making other areas of the business as environmentally friendly as possible. The biggest area of wastage is the plastic netting used to wrap round the trees when they’re taken out the ground. “We’ve been working with our supplier to source a biodegradable alternative, and this year the netting is made from potato starch which is 100% biodegradable,” says Alastair.
The notion of a sustainable Christmas doesn’t stop at trees – for the eco-aware it can encompass everything from presents, to party wear and food.
At the recent Spirit of Christmas fair in London’s Olympia, many of the stallholders were promoting their environmental credentials. In a cosy corner of the hall, Nicole Paskauskas was manning the stand for her biodegradable glitter company, Disco Dust London. It sells an array of sparkling hair, face and body products minus the microplastics often found in glitter.
“Instead of plastics we use cellulose film, sourced from hard woods like eucalyptus. In wetlands it’s broken down by microorganisms in the water, so when it’s washed off, animals aren’t ingesting the glitter, and it doesn’t become part of the food chain. We also sell aloe vera gel to stick the glitter on with.”
But bio-glitter is a relatively new product, and Nicole says there are limitations.
“Certain shapes and affects have to be made out of plastic, so we can’t sell anything neon, UV, glow in the dark, iridescent or holographic.”
At the other end of the hall, Jamie Griffiths from Oarsum is selling gifts made from recycled sailcloth. His wares range from holdalls, to pencil cases, and dog beds.
“Once sails are ripped, a chandler [a supplier of sailing equipment] can’t use them, so rather than them ending up in landfill we repurpose them.”
The robust nature of the material makes for sturdy, waterproof products, including a backgammon board that Mr Griffiths spreads out in front of a sail cloth deckchair.
“If you spill a glass a wine on it, it’ll dry out in no time,” he says as a customer admires an overnight bag emblazoned with a pink flamingo.
You’ve bought the presents, rented the tree and put on your best sparkles, but Christmas wouldn’t be complete without the food. Or would it?
Fiona Oakes runs Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary in Essex, and encourages people to sponsor rather than eat a turkey, which she then cares for on her farm.
“We have 23 turkeys and they come from just about everywhere, ” she says as a flock of eight inquisitive birds pecks at our feet.
“These are from a farm in Hertfordshire. One of our supporters approached the farmer and asked if it would be possible to buy them alive, not dead. They’re in remarkably good condition, not just physically but mentally; they’ve already developed personalities.”
That’s not always the case however.
“We had one turkey called Big Bird, she was over 55lbs, and she was off her feet when she came,” says Fiona. “We built her a little cart, she got round on that, and then eventually got back on her feet. We slimmed her down, she had a rigorous exercise programme, we modified her diet, and she actually did live for quite a long time.”
Ms Oakes says that like herself many sponsors are vegan, including Leah Griffin, and her nine-year old daughter Lexi, who pay £10 a month towards the upkeep of a turkey.
“I like sponsoring the turkeys because I think they should be saved rather than eaten. They’re really cute and they’re funny, I like the noise they make,” says Lexi.
The evening is drawing in and the lights from the barns are starting to twinkle like a scene in an alternative Nativity play – albeit one that includes more poultry than usual.