Trees of Beeston #6

Last December’s Trees of Beeston (The Beestonian, issue 61), focused its attention on the seasonal staple: the pine. It celebrated the majestic Scots Pine that is well over a century old in the grounds of Beeston Parish Church at the junction of Styring Street and Chilwell Road, and the medicinal, cultural and social benefits Pine trees have gifted humans throughout history. A year on, as I sit in Costa admiring the pink lights on our traditional wonky Christmas tree in The Square, I want to take time to consider the theme of sustainability and how we might consider trees not just at Christmas, but of their sustained importance in our daily lives in Beeston, how they daily enrich our everyday lives and make habitable our community and how we might all be more tree aware in valuing the priceless environmental gems that line our streets and grow in our gardens and parks.

Sustainable Christmas trees

Last year, I discussed how readers might reflect on the festive tree they
purchase: whether cut or potted, how much use can be found for them after the twelve days of Christmas are over. A living potted tree (one with roots) can be kept either by planting them out in the garden (if you have space), potted on to be used again the following year, or else kept in pots on balconies. As they are evergreen, they add to the local ecology, and enable insects to find homes, and enrich our biodiversity. If you purchase a cut tree (no roots), how the pine needles can be mulched and added to compost to make ericaceous soil for plants like Blueberries or Azaleas that like acid-loving soils.

If you have a wood burner and somewhere dry to store it, the trunk of a Christmas tree can be ‘seasoned’ (kept) for a year then cut into burnable chunks as a yule log for the following Christmas. The branches
can be kept in a similar way and make excellent kindling that crackles with pine resin to release the divine smell of pine. If you have space at the end of a garden, allowing a dying cut tree to slowly decompose provides living spaces for the insects and bug life that pollinate flowers and plants as well as providing food for birds, so an ex-Christmas tree as a bug hotel is also another good use.

This year, I wanted to source a sustainable tree: to find out about its life before it takes centre stage in my domestic festivities during Christmas and before it makes its way to enriching my woodpile and garden compost in the new year. Luckily, I went to see Anthony at Hallams at their Christmas tree centre behind Sushi House on Beeston High Street and selected my tree.

It was a bitterly cold morning, and I spent a good while deliberating on which tree I could a) afford and b) how my investment in the tree could be used after the festive season had finished. I’ll admit, the presence of pine cones led to my choice of a Fraser Fir, as much as for its thick pretty dark green pine needles with a natural hue of white at their tips. The pine cones not only make an attractive additional feature to the tree while indoors, but after Christmas will make excellent kindling/firelighters, a bonus addition to my woodstore.

Most of the Christmas trees at Hallams (who are not paying for this promotion, but are an excellent local company and purveyors of top fruit, veg and fish as well as festive trees) are supplied by a specialist ‘needlefresh grower’. Needlefresh, their website states are “The UK’s leading supplier of real, living and fresh-cut Christmas trees direct to trade and to the consumer.” If you go to the website (www.needlefresh.co.uk) and type in the code number on the top of the tag of your chosen tree, you can locate where your tree was grown in the UK.

While the Fraser Fir is a tree native to America and the most popular variety used in the United States (including the type most acquired by the White House), this specially grown Fraser Fir had not been shipped across the Atlantic, and had far fewer carbon miles. The grower of this fine tree is Brian, son of Gordon Hughes who set up Tayside forestry 55 years ago. Today, Brian produces 60,000 trees up in the Angus countryside in Scotland in environmentally friendly ways, employing experienced staff.

It pleases me to know the provenance of my tree. I know that my money isn’t just going to a local business in Beeston, but that its growers and the community in Scotland will also benefit from the sale.

Anthony netted my tree ready for delivery. While the netting itself is not made from recyclable materials, I will be reusing it in a similar vein to how I reuse the nets that my fruit comes in: I will bundle it up and either use it as a large scouring pad to clean my garden pots or else use it for packaging filling when sending fragile items in the post.

I won’t be able to show you the decorations, as my decorating of the tree will happen after I have submitted this article, but for those interested in interior festive design, my humanist Christmas tree takes a different theme each year. Last year, it was scientists and science fiction writers, two of whom (Stephen Hawking and Ursula K Le Guin) has died in 2019 and I wanted to remember them (yes, I went full Blue Peter and made images of them into ‘angels’) along with Alan Turing, Prof Maggie Aderin-Pocock (my son is a big fan of CBeebies Stargazing live), and Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the astro-physicist who discovered quasars and pulsars. This year, it will have a Bronte theme in honour of my favourite of the three Bronte Sisters, Anne, whose bicentenary is marked in 2020. The Midlands author George Eliot will also feature as she also shares a bicentenary with Anne Bronte. Given that pines are used in the making of paper and in the production of books, to have a literary festive tree seems – to me at least – entirely apt.

So I look forward to the quality of time spent with my Christmas tree, enjoying the twinkling lights, and taking time to be grateful for the many small blessings in my life, of which the trees of Beeston are one.

Trees of Beeston for 2020

I took a small break from writing this column. Over the summer,
I became despondent and a little down. Most days appeared to bring the screeching sonics of chainsaws, and trees in gardens along my street and surrounding streets in Beeston vanished. We have no street trees on my street, so any trees in the landscape around my home are in the private gardens of neighbours, increasingly absentee owner property ‘investors’ who appear to prioritize profit over planet, tenants over trees. Beloved trees I have enjoyed having as neighbours, have known the entire time of my living in Beeston were felled. I saw mature Holly, Sycamore,
Alder trees removed. I grieved their loss. The skyline changed. The atmosphere of the neighbourhood changed. When the heat of the summer sun shone down, there was no more tree shade as I waited for the bus along Queens Road. When the rains came, there were fewer trees to absorb the surface water and localised flooding occurred. Fewer bats flew past. The owl that used to regularly hoot its nocturnal presence does so no more. The sound of songbirds have audibly diminished. So I have made renewed efforts to encourage wildlife into my garden. I have begun to collect tree seeds. Pot up saplings. When I mark the passing of friends or another job application fails, I plant a tree. When I do this, I feel like I plant some hope. A more hopeful future.

So I mark the return of Trees of Beeston by getting behind initiatives taking place in Beeston that share an appreciation for trees in our landscape. I am encouraged to see the We Dig\NG9 initiative along with the Beeston Civic Society and Broxtowe Borough Council’s to plant a mini woodland habitat as a community forest.

For all interested in taking part, reserve 24th January in your brand new 2020 diaries: 10 am-noon at Beeston FC Pavilion, Cartwright Way. Bring wellies, tree enthusiasm and a sense of renewed purpose for being custodians of the treescape of future Beestonians! As the new year approaches, the very best thing every one of us can commit to is planting a tree. The Woodland Trust campaign #EveryTreeCounts acknowledges that in the face of climate catastrophe, a campaign for planting more trees will help
not just the quality of the everyday lives of people, for the connection they bring to the natural world, but because it makes our world habitable for wildlife and us: trees “lock up carbon, fight flooding, reduce pollution, nurture wildlife and make landscapes more resilient” (www.woodlandtrust.org.uk).

Trees of Beeston is strongly behind #TreesForBeeston and will continue to celebrate the trees in our fab town. It will also celebrate the efforts and capacity we have as fellow inhabitants to live sustainably with the trees we have and the new trees we can plant and grow, to share tree knowledge for future residents – tree and human – in Beeston. Given the multiple benefits of trees for environmental sustainability, I look forward to 2020 marking a renewed focus for Trees of and for Beeston!

Wishing you all a peaceful, sustainable and hopeful Christmas and 2020.

DR JN

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