This Christmas “more important than ever” says York tree grower

PREPARATIONS for Christmas are now in full swing at an historic estate, near York – despite the national lockdown.

More than 20,000 Christmas trees are currently being readied for sale at Newburgh Priory, as the estate gears up for the festive season.

Owner Stephen Wombwell believes that Christmas this year will be very important – as families across the country try to forget about the global pandemic which has blighted 2020 so far.

“This has been a terrible year for everyone and the impression I’m getting is that people want to bring a bit of festive cheer and celebrate the best they can. Anecdotal evidence so far suggests that the sale of Christmas decorations has been swifter than ever – and the quintessential Christmas decoration is the Christmas tree,” said Stephen.

Stephen Wombwell and his childhood friend Will Standeven has been growing Christmas trees on the estate for the last ten years. Now they are selling them in bulk across the north of England this Christmas, as well as setting up a special retail outlet at Newburgh – and giving trees away to local schools.

“The national lockdown will inevitably present challenges. But we are well-prepared and will work strictly within all Covid-19 guidelines. We are working towards opening our retail outlets as we normally do,” explained Stephen.

Stephen decided to start growing Christmas trees to diversify the estate’s income shortly after he took over the running of the priory from his father who retired in 2010.

The fact that he is doing this below the tomb containing Oliver Cromwell’s headless body, which lies in the Newburgh attic, only adds to the excitement – as Cromwell tried to ban Christmas.

He explained: “If all goes well, I am hoping that in a few years’ time, up to 25 per cent of my income will come from selling trees, but at the moment it’s a waiting game. We’ve had eight years of growing trees with roughly £100,000 worth of outgoings a year.”

Will Standeven added: “Last year we had our best year yet, harvesting and selling thousands of trees, ranging from 5ft-7ft for the cut trees and about 3ft for the potted trees. This year we are confident of breaking that record, with 20,000 trees available to buy.”

The trees will be distributed across the north of England and will also be available at Newburgh and at Methley, near Leeds, on the Mexborough Estate.

The first Christmas tree seedlings were planted in the ground in 2012 and Newburgh is fast becoming one of country’s biggest Christmas tree growers with 220,000 trees across 110 acres.

Popular non-drop Nordmann fir trees make up 80 per cent of its crop. Newburgh also grows Fraser firs and Norway spruce plus a variety of potted trees for supermarkets, with seedlings sourced from Denmark.

All of the wholesale trees will be sold through Infinity Christmas Trees – a consortium it set up two-and-a half-years ago with a handful of other growers from across the UK. The aim is to sell quality trees that are sourced into the local area to reduce the environmental impact of Christmas tree distribution.

“No tree should be really doing more than 50 or 60 miles,” said Stephen.

The trees will be cut and netted in the field, then moved about a mile where they will be put into pallets and on to lorries, which will distribute them to retailers in Yorkshire. The aim is to have trees delivered within about three days of being cut.

The operation at Newburgh employs a couple of people but it can grow to up to 12 people when they plant up to 35,000 trees in the spring. The number of jobs, particularly seasonal jobs, will increase exponentially as the operation expands.

“We’re going to become a much more labour intensive business and it will end up being a good source of employment,” says Stephen Wombwell.

York Press | News