06:10 Tuesday 05 November 2013

Christmas trees in short supply in Cambridgeshire - so will it be 'ho ho woe' this year?

Written byGARETH MCPHERSON

William Newman , from Parsonage Farm , Bottisham, following a bumper Christmas tree crop in 2010. Picture by Keith Jones William Newman , from Parsonage Farm , Bottisham, following a bumper Christmas tree crop in 2010. Picture by Keith Jones

The festive spirit is under threat in Cambridge – because of a shortage of Christmas trees.

Growers in Cambridgeshire are facing their worst yield in years, leaving them with stunted trees that are virtually unsellable.

Droughts in key growing months over the last few years have filtered through to this year, with species such as Nordman firs and Norway spruces not measuring up in the height stakes.

There will be a choke in supply of locally-grown trees while much of the rest of the country faces similar problems and some importers shun the UK market, pushing prices up again after year-on-year rises.

William Newman, who runs The Cambridge Christmas Tree Experience, which specialises in growing Norway spruces, said he is abandoning selling the trees altogether this year for the first time in more than two decades.

The 60-year-old, an arable farmer at Parsonage Farm in Bottisham, said: “The thing is they take seven years ago to grow and in that time we’ve had three years where we’ve had droughts in May, June, July time, which is a crucial period.

“They really have not grown as much as they should. There is nothing wrong with them apart from the fact they are so small, but it’s not worth trying to sell them.

“It doesn’t help our business but it was a diversification. It’s the first time this has happened to us with the trees, but when you are farming you have to expect things like this.”

He added: “There is a risk that people will go elsewhere and forget about us, but I think we offer something different in that people can come here and choose their own trees and we will be selling them again next year.”

Adam Broadway, of The Cambridge Christmas Tree Company, says their operation is also at risk this year.

His firm delivers up to 150 Nordman firs within the city, which cost up to £60 for the 8ft version.

He said: “We are just trying to sort out what is going to happen and we will only run our service if we know we can do it.

“We are in negotiations with our suppliers and we are in a similar boat to a lot of sellers. There is an issue out there and we are not sure what’s going to happen.

“The problem is all around the country, but we will only get our trees from the UK.”

On what it means for customers he said people will have to “think 
differently about what they do this Christmas” and it may mean prices have to go up, he added.

In the last few years, overseas sellers of Christmas trees, such as Denmark, the largest grower of trees in Europe, have been importing fewer trees into the UK because of unfavourable exchange rates and EU subsidies turning their attention to other crops.

Alastair Morbey, of Ely Christmas Trees, which runs out of Harlocks Farm in Stuntney, is hopeful he will not suffer a shortage because he buys his trees from north of the border.

He said: “Our supplier is up in Scotland so we’re confident we won’t have any problems.”

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