Green for life, not just for Christmas

by Sara Tomkins, founder of Rooted, living Christmas trees, Todmorden.

INNOVATION is one of the key factors in making Natural Flood Management (NFM) work on a local and national level.  Sara Tomkins in Walsden has a passion for trees and her beautiful blog below illustrates how her love of nature and her willingness to use her land for sustainable purposes is a terrific example of NFM in action.  Sara was inspired by the work of Slow The Flow and so set about establishing a small enterprise to grow and recycle Christmas trees.   

Slow The Flow asked Sara to talk about her passion for innovation and making a difference to reduce flood risk in her local area. 

“I made a resolution at the start of 2020 to be more sustainable in any way I could. I decided not to fly on holiday, to reduce my plastic usage and started researching electric cars and ground source heating as a way of reducing my own carbon impact. And I wanted to plant some trees.” 

Rooted living christmas trees

Then Covid-19 hit! I lost my job and the world turned upside down.  Dreams of expensive electric cars and ground source heating went on hold, but I could still reduce waste, recycle more and plant some trees on my land.  I was determined to stay positive and achieve my 2020 resolution as best I could.

I am lucky enough to have a field that my neighbour/farmer grazes his sheep on but since experiencing the flooding in the Calder Valley I felt it was time to move the sheep on and plant some trees.  I wanted to help in any small way we could in reducing the flow of water into the stream at the bottom of our garden that flows into Walsden Waters and down into Todmorden and beyond.    

My neighbours had previously planted 300 trees on the moors, and they were doing brilliantly so I knew it would work.  I contacted ‘Slow The Flow’ through their ‘Volunteer Your Land’ page on their website and they put me in touch with Treesponsibilty who came and assessed our field and discussed the planting plan.  They were delighted as they are continually seeking new tree-planting opportunities and landowners to get involved with this type of innovative NFM.  

Rooted living christmas trees

We qualified for 500 ‘free’ trees which was great; the only issue now was volunteers to plant them in a ‘Covid safe’ way, as school children would normally help as part of an educational field trip.  However I was excited about the new trees which included a lovely mix of much needed hedge shrubs along with trees such as hazel, elder and blackthorn, bird cherry hawthorn which will please the bats and birds, as well birch, oak, alder, rowan to really create that woodland feel.

I also needed a plan B, to keep me sane during lock down, whilst looking for a new job in an economic downturn.  My veg patch was looking the best it had ever done and my garden maturing nicely, but I was still thinking about my 2020 New Year resolution and the field which still had room to do more.   I found some companies elsewhere offering a tree hiring solution at Christmas instead of cut trees and I was sold on this inspiring and innovative idea.  

Why wasn’t anyone else doing this around here, I thought?  The seed was planted and ‘Rooted’, my side hustle began.  

The Carbon Trust says a 2-metre real Christmas tree, cut with no roots, has a carbon footprint of 16kg CO2e if it ends up in landfill. This is because the tree decomposes and produces methane gas, which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. A 2-metre artificial tree is even worse, with a carbon footprint of 40kg CO2e, more than twice that of a real tree that ends its life in landfill.

Darran Messem, Managing Director of Certification at the Carbon Trust said.

“A real pine tree naturally absorbs CO2 and releases oxygen. The best thing you can do at Christmas is keep a tree alive and breathing.  Disposing of a tree by composting produces CO2 and methane.  An artificial tree has a higher carbon footprint than a natural one because of the energy intensive production process involved.  By far the best option is a potted tree which, with care, can be replanted after the festive season and reused year after year.”  

The government estimates that the nation’s 8m dumped Christmas trees generate 160,000 tonnes of waste every year. Not only is this a tremendous waste of resources, the cost of disposal is also eye watering – an estimated £14 million for local councils to send faded firs and sad spruces to landfill.  Plus, as they rot down, the trees release harmful gases.

Rooted living christmas trees

Our local council, Calderdale, make a tremendous effort to recycle dying trees after Christmas but the waste is still a problem, Cllr Scott Patient, lead member for Climate Change & Resilience at Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council adds,

“By hiring a tree and letting it live on, we can reduce waste and support the Calder Valley’s flood management schemes and improve our air quality.  I think Rooted is a kind business idea for our community that represents all that is great about living in the Calder Valley. As a flood warden and after witnessing the devastation floods in our area causes I hope people will switch to hiring a tree rather than buying a cut tree this year so we can build a better, cleaner and greener community for our children’s future.”

Slow the Flow and Treesponsibilty then inspired me to take my plans for recycled Christmas trees to a new level.  Subsequently, I planted a further 360 Christmas trees and another 150 saplings are due in spring 2021.   This means that we will have over 1000 trees, which is a good start, and my goal is to reach 2030 trees by 2030.  I am hoping these will draw carbon and ‘slow the flow’ of the rainwater making us all less vulnerable to local climate change issues and subsequent flooding.  

After all, a tree is not just for Christmas.

Rooted living christmas trees

So, once my pot-grown trees outgrow their pots, my aim is to donate them to Slow The Flow so they can live forever and support tree planting across the Calder Valley as part of their natural flood management programme.  

“In a world where we all need to do more for the planet, I hope by offering choice of adopting a pot grown tree that can be green for life not just for Christmas, feels like the spirit of Calderdale’s Christmas future.  It has certainly helped me through these tough times, and I hope these happy trees can support the happy valley for decades to come”.

Slow The Flow are delighted that landowners like Sara are using their assets for the greater good of the community.  If you would like to get involved in your own NFM project email to discuss your project with us.