Norfolk and Suffolk retailers benefit from Christmas tree sales

The Christmas tree has long been a symbol of the festive spirit, decorated with baubles and an angel on top.

And the popularity of the evergreen conifer appears to be growing, despite concerns at one time the traditional tree was being shunned in favour of artificial ones, which left less mess and fewer needles laying around.

Figures from the British Christmas Tree Growers Association suggest more than 8m trees will be sold this year, an increase of 2m on 1999.

East Anglia is right at the heart of the Christmas tree production industry, having the largest number of producers of any region of the country.

Producers include Norfolk Christmas Trees at the Salle estate, near Reepham and the Elveden Estate near Thetford.

Jim Rudderham, forestry and conservation manager at Elveden, said: 'Sales have been fantastic. On Saturday we sold 1,000 trees and almost 2,000 over the weekend. Certainly, we have not seen any drop in sales numbers.

'The question of whether people are choosing artificial trees ahead of real ones seems to crop up annually, but we are not hearing that growers are suffering from low sales figures.'

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The estate started growing Christmas trees 40 years ago as a means of diversification on a 100 hectare site.

There are 50,000 trees growing on the estate, including spruce and fir, of which 5,000 are ready for cutting and customers include 200 local authorities across the country, from Aberdeen to Exeter, who need trees for their town centre displays.

The capital also receives some large Christmas trees from the estate, though not the main spruce in Trafalgar Square, which has been donated by the Norwegians since 1947 in gratitude for Britain's support during the Second World War.

Mr Rudderham said the big advantage of natural trees was that they provided environmental benefits, particularly that they could be disposed of in an eco-friendly way.

'Because they are in the ground for between six and 10 years, there must be those environmental benefits both nationally and globally which you don't get with plastic trees,' he said.

The Christmas tree boom has also been reflected in garden centres selling the festive trees across the county.

Colin Dale, plant buyer for Notcutts Garden Centres, which has a branch in Norwich, said: 'As soon as the Christmas trees come in, we sell almost double the proportion of real trees to artificial and sales are increasing, although we have noticed that people do seem to be delaying buying real trees in recent years.'

Colin Edwards, a partner at Diss Garden Centre, said sales of natural trees had been holding up and there had been a revival of interest as growing techniques had improved, especially with the use of more Nordman fir trees which left fewer needles.

He said: 'I think people like the traditions of Christmas and having a real tree in the house is part of that.'

However, Peter Muir, a spokesman for QD stores, said the trend had been for more artificial Christmas tree sales.

He added: 'The fact of the matter is money is tight and you can buy an artificial tree for �10. There are other factors at play as well, particularly that an articficial tree is easier to manage and can last for a lifetime.'

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