A Wild & Free Christmas Tree
On Saturday we ventured out for one of my favourite Christmas traditions - pulling our own pine tree at the RSPB Farnham Heath nature reserve in Surrey! Farnham Heath is part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the heathland there was once an overgrown conifer plantation.
Historically, British heathland habitats would have been maintained by human and animal interaction, such as cutting heather for bedding and medicines, digging turf for fuel, making glass from bracken, and grazing livestock on the scrub. The natural interactions of the past were fantastic at keeping the heathlands and healthy and creating lots of microhabitats for different species of wildlife. Heathland is now a much rarer habitat in the UK, and globally it is even rarer than rainforest.
Farnham Heath originally became a plantation after the war in order to meet demands for timber, but as the conifers outgrew the heather, most of the species endemic to heathland moved elsewhere. When the RSPB acquired Farnham Heath in 2002, they started a successful project reverting it back to heathland, woodland and coppice, and there are now a whole range of species there, including bats, badgers, crossbills, dartford warbler, nightjar, bluebells, adders, lizards and siskin.
On ‘Pull a Pine’ day, the aim of the game is to remove as many straggling conifer trees as possible, remnants of the plantation that are in danger of overcrowding the heath if not regularly removed. At the same time, visitors are encouraged to look out for any wild pines that would make a lovely Christmas tree and take them home. It’s an awesome idea - not only can you avoid the extortionate costs and mysterious origins of shop-bought Christmas trees, you also get to contribute to the health and vibrancy of your local heathland. It’s a no-brainer!
We took Pablo with us, who has settled into the British weather surprisingly quickly! He loved snoofling around the labyrinth of pine trees.
This year we opted to use a tree popper rather than the usual loppers. As we’ve been living in a flat for the past few years, we’ve tended to chop our tree down because, without a garden to plant it in, we would have no need of it after Christmas. In January our tree usually goes to the goats at the farm - their favourite festive treat.
But this year’s event coincided with some very exciting news… After eight months of paperwork, phone calls, surveys, credit reports, emails, letters, signatures and tedium, this week we FINALLY exchanged on our new house! We move in next week - just in time for Christmas! As we’ll have a lovely garden to enjoy, we decided to pop this year’s tree, roots and all, and replant it in a large pot so we could keep it growing in the garden and bring it in each year for Christmas.
We found the plumpest, most handsome tree we could - although part of the ‘Pull a Pine’ charm is embracing the natural form of a wild tree - and after popping and lopping for an hour or so, helping to remove a few more trees to clear the heathland, we made our way back to the car park, stopping to buy a freshly made vegan flapjack from the RSPB stand. Perfect!
The RSPB ‘Pull a Pine’ event takes place at the beginning of December every year - the perfect excuse to get outside and kickstart the festive season.