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Forest Diary - December

How to keep your Christmas tree fresh and healthy

By Gary North, Recreation Manager at the Forestry Commission

The Forestry Commission sells around 50,000 Christmas trees in England each year, so you could say that we’re experts in this field. I’d like to share with you our top tips for looking after your tree over the festive period . With a little care and attention you can prevent the needles from dropping and the green from fading on your Christmas tree.

 Once you’ve managed to get your tree home, take a 2.5cm piece off the base of the trunk and put the tree in a stand with the trunk submerged in fresh cool water. Regularly top it up with fresh water, as 6ft trees can suck up over a pint of water a day. Try to find a good spot for your tree away from a radiator or fire.

 If like me, you like the lovely ‘Christmassy’ scent of the Norway spruce, but are not a fan of their little sharp and spikey needles, it’s best to buy your Norway spruce nearer to Christmas Day, as it can lose its needles quite quickly once brought indoors. To help your spruce retain its needles for longer, it’s best to keep it in a cool, dry place and make sure it’s watered daily.

Many people prefer to choose a Nordman fir as their Christmas tree, because it has softer needles that are glossy and green with a whitish/light blue underside. Its lovely shape and strong branches make it great for hanging those big glass decorations.  Also, the Nordman fir is a good choice if you suffer from allergies, as the needles have a thick waxy coating.

The trees we sell have better needle retention than most, but for those pesky few needles which fall, we've found some fantastic ways of reusing them in creative ways! Try making a warm mug of needle tea, it’s so easy to do, just pick up and wash-off any freshly fallen pine needles from your tree. Then boil the kettle and pour the water into a mug. Add the needles to your mug and stir for a few minutes, until they begin to fade in colour - this is where the flavour is released! Finally, remove the needles with a fork, then add sugar or a squeeze of fresh lemon to taste.

You can also add needles to your compost heap so there's no need to throw away fallen needles! These natural composters improve the soil’s ability to hold moisture and can provide your garden with much needed nutrients. Whilst needles are naturally acidic, this level will reduce over time and when broken up slightly. What makes needles so great as compost is that they do not compact - this means greater airflow into your compost heap which means other materials within it will break down more quickly.

 We have so much more to offer than just selling Christmas trees, we are lucky to have one of our most popular forest sites nearby, at Moors Valley Country Park and Forest. It has a whole range of Christmas activities for both little and big kids to get into the festive spirit!

If you over-indulge on Christmas Day, there’s nothing better than a refreshing Boxing Day stroll in your nearest woods. It’s a great time of year to get together with family and friends for an invigorating walk, just wrap up warm, pull on your wellies and explore the beautiful New Forest all around us.  I hope you find these top tips useful and enjoy your Christmas tree and the forest over the festive holiday.

 

Black Thursday for Timber Sales

by Alex Howells, North Walk Forester

 The last Thursday of November was ‘sales’ day for the Forestry Commission’s hardwood logs.

The ‘Annual Hardwood Auction’ in Cirencester is the opportunity for timber merchants and sawmills from around the UK to bid for the timber they require. The New Forest presented a bumper harvest for sale and achieved some excellent prices.

With a total length of 274 metres (equalling over one and a half times the height of the Spinnaker Tower!), the bids came in thick and fast as customers competed for top class timber.

The logs came from woodlands across the New Forest, including Frame Heath in the South, Island Thorns and Holly Hatch in the North. This is testament to the work of many teams who prepared the sites and managed contracts, as well as those in planning who developed the Forest Design Plans.

Selling timber remains a large part of the Forestry Commission’s business, with the income that is generated ploughed back into land management; protecting wildlife, providing healthy recreation and producing more renewable materials.

These trees are an integral part of the forest, providing a variety of habitats for animals, insects and plant species. To ensure a continued supply of sustainably sourced timber, the trees are harvested and replanted in cycles and that is where the Forestry Commission’s expertise comes into play.

All year round, the Forestry Commission’s foresters maintain programmes of thinning, felling and re-planting. In the autumn and winter months, work starts on the oak trees.

This seasonal timing is necessary for a few reasons. In the autumn, the sap vacates the oak tree and the leaves fall off, therefore there is less moisture in the tree, making the timber more stable. There are also practical reasons surrounding the felling; a bare tree is easier and safer to fell as the cutter can see into the canopy more easily.

Tree felling has been undertaken for centuries to maintain a continuous supply of timber, but it is much more than chopping down a tree – it also offers significant biodiversity benefits.

Thinning woodland opens up the forest canopy to provide more space for remaining trees, while letting sunlight through to the undergrowth and living species. Birds, butterflies and insects, as well as plant species such as orchids, primroses and fungi, all thrive on the sun’s energy.

Oak trees are felled manually, with a chainsaw, by skilled cutters. The next step in the process is to extract the logs out of the forest using either a heavy vehicle called a skidder or a forwarder machine. The logs are presented ready for tagging – a method of measuring and numbering the logs.

Branches are cut off, stacked and set aside, to sell to merchants and private buyers as firewood and wood chipping. Any smaller branches, twigs and leaves that are left will rot down and generate nutrients into the ground.

Shortly, we’ll be taking delivery of tens of thousands of young trees for our winter planting programme. The Forest Design Plans set out which woodland inclosures should be re-stocked with young trees, having been previously harvested for sustainable timber... then the whole cycle begins again.

  Chocolate and bonfires in the New Forest

 By Kerry Trueman, Volunteer Co-ordinator at the Forestry Commission

As I feel the new season of winter starting and dig out my warmer clothes for the day working in the forest, I know it’s that time of year which usually involves cutting trees and having bonfires! This is one of our busiest months, with a full programme of conservation work days for our volunteers, as the majority of woodland work we do takes place in winter.

The Forestry Commission’s Two Trees Conservation Volunteers play a really active role here in the New Forest. We have over 100 committed members of the Two Trees Conservation Team, who work closely with Volunteer Rangers on a programme of conservation tasks right across the National Park. Anyone can sign up, so long as they are 18 or over, and we have a really fantastic and mixed bunch of people involved.

We’ve already had a really productive autumn work programme that included cutting back vegetation to create important wildlife corridors that let light in to the forest floor to create better habitat. There are all sorts of activities that our volunteers get involved with. They really do play a critical part in helping the Forestry Commission and our partners look after the New Forest – all 145 square miles of it - for people to enjoy, and for wildlife to flourish.

Work days in the forest with our volunteers always start with a full tin of chocolates and by the end of the day all the chocolates are in the people! But we get lots of work done and the success story is a direct result of our volunteers’ continued efforts. I’m very proud to work alongside many volunteers that have been contributing their time for over ten years, the results are always impressive – so many hard working volunteer hours are put in year after year. Of course, they love to make bonfires and I’m sure that’s what keeps them coming back each work day and we never have a work day that doesn’t involve chocolate!

With several volunteer events every week during December and January, there is much to-ing and fro-ing to organise the programme of works, and our super Volunteer Ranger Conservation Leaders help to make it all run smoothly. I must thank our Volunteer Rangers that lead each event,  checking that everyone has enough work to do, always having an eye out for safety, calling ‘chocolate breaks’. It’s amazing how well motivated volunteers can be when there is chocolate involved.

We had a really good workday last week at Kings Copse, near Beaulieu Heath, the location was perfect; dry underfoot, easy access, amazing views. The work involved cutting back and clearing trees and scrub from the edge of forest tracks to improve habitat for butterflies and insects.  This week we’ll be heading out from Bratley View car park, near Bolderwood, to find and remove seedling pines (known as the Christmas pine pull) from surrounding heathland to ensure the survival of heathland species such as Dartford warbler and silver studded blue butterflies.  This task is also important as it helps to prevents areas converting to coniferous woodland.

Here at the Forestry Commission we’re responsible for managing the Crown Lands of the New Forest. Encompassing just under 50% of the national park’s total area, it receives approximately 14 million day visits a year, so there’s always work to be done and we simply couldn’t operate without the vital support of our volunteers.

You can find full details of the Two Trees Conservation events at www.newforest2trees.org.uk

Spruced upped for Lyndhurst High Street

 Robin Cutler, Forest Craftsperson at the Forestry Commission

Once again this year, the Forestry Commission has given Lyndhurst an impressive Christmas tree, positioned in the High Street for all to see.

Last week, my colleague Ray Stride and I carefully selected a Norway spruce that was just the right size and shape from an Inclosure, near Lyndhurst and delivered the Christmas tree to The Fox and Hounds public house on the High Street.

I hand-cut the 23 year old tree and Ray raised it off the forest floor using specialist rigging and a Telehandler. Then we put it on the back of our truck ready for delivery.

The tree stood unlit in anticipation of Saturday 26 November for the official switch on ceremony. There was a grand opening in the village with lots of family entertainment and late night shopping.

Like all trees grown on the Public Forest Estate the spruce has FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification, meaning that at least another tree is planted for every one harvested to ensure the long-term success of working forests. 

Trees are at the very centre of everything I do and of course, of our Christmas, so I am delighted that we can bring such a splendid Norway spruce to the residents and visitors of Lyndhurst. It symbolises the wonder of our woodlands and in particular our much-loved New Forest.

I think it's wonderful to have a tree brought from the local forest to stand in the centre of Lyndhurst, which after all has been the ‘Capital’ of the New Forest since William the Conqueror established the area as a royal hunting ground in 1079.

My colleagues and I are getting everything ready to start our Christmas tree sales centre for the Forestry Commission at New Park, in Brockenhurst.  There are lots of other Forestry Commission Christmas tree sales centres right across England, offering a variety of trees that are grown in the UK in a well-managed way.

At New Park we’ll be selling two different species: Nordmann fir and Norway spruce. The two trees are subtly different and it’s really personal preference that sways the choice of one over the other. Indeed, over the years I’ve noticed that people seem to choose whichever one they grew up having as their Christmas tree, as to them the tree of their childhood remains the definitive Christmas tree.

We get asked a lot if we sell a non-drop tree and the answer is no. None of the trees are non-drop, however, if kept in the right conditions (cool and with plenty of water) they should all hold their needles well, the best for needle retention being the Nordmann Fir, which makes it the most popular choice. The Nordmann has bigger, smoother needles than the spruce and looks super, but the spruce is wonderfully bushy and smells very Christmassy.

Of course, being involved in sustainable forestry for as long as I have, I would always recommend you buy a real Christmas trees. Did you know that real trees use ten times fewer materials and five times less energy than artificial trees? And they are completely biodegradable.

We only sell trees that are grown in the UK and this year, we are giving away a free baby Christmas tree sapling with every tree sold. So you’ll be able to plant and grow your own real Christmas tree for the future. It will also come with a certificate of authenticity to guarantee the trees quality, which will be signed by Santa himself.

For more information about Real Christmas trees visit www.forestry.gov.uk/christmas

Last updated: 22nd June 2017

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.