Artificial Christmas trees gain sales at expense of real trees

Growers' association campaigns against artificial trees.

Christmas: real trees (left) better for environment and offer family tradition but sales of artificials (right) rising
Christmas: real trees (left) better for environment and offer family tradition but sales of artificials (right) rising

Sales of real Christmas trees in some garden centres have fallen to just 0.2 per cent of total turnover and two per cent of Christmas turnover, which can reach seven figures, with artificial trees taking over where real trees once dominated.

The British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) is campaigning against buying artificial trees, which are for sale for two months longer than real trees.

The association said sales of UK real trees were 8.5 million for Christmas 2008 but they quote six million during the season now. Which? figures show 18 per cent of UK households buy a real tree and 49 per cent put up an artificial tree.

In the UK, an estimated two million artificial trees are sold each year, with improving quality adding to longevity, estimated at four years. Research suggests a 6ft real tree creates 3.5kg of carbon emissions if chipped or burnt, while an artificial tree creates 40kg if it goes to landfill.

Most artificial trees come from China, while most real trees are grown in the UK, with Brexit meaning homegrown prices are cheaper in comparison with imports this season. In the USA, 33 million real trees and 9.5 million fake trees sell each year.

Whiel real trees cost around £50 for a 6ft Nordman, artificials are selling for as little as £5 in Asda for a three foot tree.

Tillington Christmas tree buyer Andy Bunker said: "We can't keep selling artificial trees without something having to give. Real tree sales are going down five per cent year on year at a conservative estimate. If an artificial tree lasts four years, then you have lost potential real sales for each of those years. That's not scaremongering, that's fact.

"How do we get the market back - more than one tree per house and pot-grown trees? But artificial trees are available as half-tree or slim trees to fit in the kitchen. There are more artificial options available. It doesn't matter to a lot of garden centres but to me it's about the principle of it."

He added: "You need someone on a TV gardening programme to say real Christmas trees are good for the environment. Artificial trees are on the shop floor for two months before the first real tree is cut."

Bunker suggested promoting buying more than one tree per house and pot-grown trees, as well as having a sample saying real trees are coming soon and taking orders. He added: "Real trees' prices have stabilised and they are getting better and better. Real trees are great for the environment."

BCTGA secretary Harry Brightwell said: "About this time of year we know the shops fill up with artificial trees, which can entice families into making an early purchase. But it really misses a point of Christmas and stops families and friends enjoying time together and sharing that wonderful tradition of selecting a real Christmas tree together.

"Some people think buying a real tree means cutting down a forest, but trees are grown as a crop for selling and new trees are planted to replace those sold."

He added: "Real trees provide so many benefits. These include providing shelter to wildlife, being carbon neutral (according to the Carbon Trust), removing air pollution by the interception of particulate matter and studies show that just looking at a real tree can reduce stress levels. We would urge everyone to wait a little longer and buy real and buy British".

Welsh-based Christmas decorations wholesaler and manufacturer Premier said it sells 30,000-40,000 artificial trees to garden centres, retailers, and shops annually. The most expensive artificial trees, complete with multicolour LEDs, retail at more than £1,000 and can reach 4.5m tall.

Buckingham Garden Centre's Chris Day said real tree sales are stable although the cost has risen in recent years and he sticks to the premium end of the market. "The quality of artificial trees has gone up with pre-lit trees. But we see choosing a real tree from a garden centre as a family event."

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