Christmas tree sellers allowed to reopen in England despite lockdown

Rebecca Smithers Consumer affairs correspondent
·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Johnny Armstead/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Johnny Armstead/REX/Shutterstock

Specialist Christmas tree sellers, farms and stalls were allowed to reopen for sales in England this weekend, after the government changed the lockdown rules to reclassify them as “essential” retailers.

While supermarkets and garden centres have been selling fresh-cut trees because they were deemed to be essential businesses, smaller “farmgate” sellers were forced to close because of the month-long restrictions.

The British Christmas Tree Growers’ Association had been lobbying for the change to support the UK fresh tree sector, pointing out that sales tend to take place outdoors where social distancing is easier.

Many of its members have been offering pre-booked appointments or even webcam facilities to allow shoppers to choose their own trees, with “click and collect” and other delivery services being rolled out in the run-up to Christmas.

The organisation has more than 320 members who sell approximately 8m trees every year, along with fresh wreaths and holly, and with prices generally lower than in garden centres.

David Whitehead, the co-owner of Canalside Christmas Trees of Wootton Rivers, near Marlborough, Wiltshire, said: “We got the news of the U-turn at the eleventh hour on Friday night and reopened on Saturday morning, within fully Covid-safe conditions.

“The atmosphere all weekend has been absolutely magical – people are so pleased to be out in the open air and getting into the festive spirit. We have five acres full of trees and have already sold 200 so far this weekend.”

Last week, turkey farmers received a similar pre-Christmas boost after being told by the government that thousands of seasonal workers coming to the UK from Europe to help slaughter and pluck birds for festive tables are being exempted from the 14-day quarantine.

The British Poultry Council (BPC) had demanded an urgent exemption from Covid-related travel restrictions to avoid shortages of highly skilled turkey pluckers and butchers, which, it said, could have triggered the collapse of this year’s supply. About 9 million British turkeys are reared for Christmas each year, but the seasonal sector cannot survive without non-UK labour, it warned.

The exemption will cover about 5,500 seasonal workers who normally travel from Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia – typically on two-month contracts – to help slaughter, pluck and prepare birds destined for UK Christmas dinner tables.

Welcoming the move, the BPC said: “If the exemption helps us deliver a fantastic Christmas and helps our smaller seasonal producers, then it can only be a good thing.”