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How your old Christmas tree can be used to regenerate dune environments

As Christmas is rapidly approaching, many of you will be buying and decorating your Christmas trees ready for the up and coming festivities. For those of you who buy a real tree, have you thought about how and where you will dispose of it when the festive period is over? Some of you may or may not be aware of the positive impacts that your old Christmas trees can have on dune environments, including protecting against coastal flooding and erosion by helping to regenerate dunes.

Sand dunes are natural barriers which can protect our coastal towns and villages from high tides and flooding. Dunes form above the level of high tide when the plants that live in these salty, damp conditions trap wind-blown sand, which over time accumulates and increases the height and width of the dunes. Dunes are dynamic and constantly change due to varying wind speed and direction, rising sea levels or storm surges that cause waves to reach higher up the beach causing erosion. The recreational activity of visitors to the dunes can also have a significant negative effect on the natural process of their formation. Dune thatching is one method which can help preserve them.

K A / St Annes Dunes / CC BY-SA 2.0

Dune thatching involves covering the face of the dunes with bundles of straw, branches and plants and can include old Christmas trees. This technique increases sand accretion as the branches of buried plants and Christmas trees trap sediment and protect the vegetation of any new and existing dunes.

Planting Christmas Trees helps create a fence at the base of a dune and they are put in place where naturally occurring marram grass has been lost from trampling. Without marram grass, dunes can become flattened, as the wind blows in from the sea and blows the sand on the dune away. This can be a potentially big problem as dunes act as a natural sea defence in coastal areas and protect against flooding and erosion. Dunes provide a unique habitat for many important and protected plants and animals and some have a SSSI designation. Overtime, Christmas trees help to stabilise and build up dunes as they get buried by the windblown sand. Over the past 10 years, the National Trust staff have buried over 15,000 recycled Christmas trees.

KA / Sand Dune Restoration / CC BY-SA 2.0

Each year, organisations such as the Wildlife Trust and National Trust host annual Christmas tree planting events at various location across the country. Look online or keep an eye out for further Christmas Tree planting events in your area. By recycling our old Christmas Trees we can have a great positive effect on dune environments, both in terms of protecting against coastal flooding and erosion and preserving habitats.

The Fylde Sand Dunes project is a partnership between the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, Fylde Council and Blackpool council and is funded by the Environment Agency.  The project aims to encourage visitors to the dunes and educate them on their importance to flood protection and wildlife conservation.  Over 80% of the sand dunes in Lancashire have been lost over the past 150 years and the project aims to improve dunes as a natural sea defence.

If you would like to donate your Christmas Tree to the Fylde Sand Dunes project this year, or volunteer to help plant trees in early 2021, visit the following links for more information on tree collections, drop-offs and how to volunteer:

For more information on dune regeneration, please download our resource here.

Sources used: National Trust, The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.

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