5 ways to celebrate a 'green' Christmas
PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 November 2016
Cheshire Wildlife Trust's Katie Piercy explores ways to have a greener Christmas, without costing the earth
Long before Christmas became a whirl of red and green, early civilisations had their own reasons to celebrate the darkest time of the year. For many cultures the significance of the end of December lay in the solstice, a changing of the tides showing them the dark nights were getting shorter and the harsh winter would once again come to an end. Festivities could last for weeks or months, and involved traditions from singing naked in the street (thought to be the pre-curser of carol singing) to allowing servants to rule the house for the day. In different cultures, different deities were celebrated and rules enacted, from the entertaining to the cruel. But one common theme ran throughout – the importance of nature.
At this time of year evergreens had a particular significance for many early people, showing how life could still survive throughout the harshest time of year. From the Egyptians, who brought palms into their houses at the time of the solstice to celebrate the returning health of Ra, the sun god, to the Celtic druids who decorated their temples with evergreen foliage to celebrate everlasting life, bringing nature into the home is a tradition which has resonated through different cultures at this time of year. The Christmas we know today has its own new set of traditions and meaning but nature still has a big part to play, and perhaps more than that we still have a big part to play for nature.
So with business booming each festive season, how can we get back to basics and give a gift to nature this December 25th?
The Christmas tree
First popularised the in the UK by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who brought the tradition across with him from Germany, today around eight million Christmas trees are sold in the UK each year. If you’re considering buying an artificial tree then it’s worth considering its life cycle before you buy.
Often made of plastic, many artificial trees are non-recyclable and will end their days as part of our growing landfills. Taking hundreds or even thousands of years to biodegrade, every artificial Christmas tree ever made is still present within our landscape. A traditional Christmas tree on the other hand can biodegrade and, even better, can then offer a home to some native wildlife.
Most pines and conifers contain chemicals which discourage insects from making them their home while alive, but a pile of dead wood can offer a safe refuge during the winter for many of our smaller critters.
To make a wildlife haven out of your old Christmas tree (and any vegetation you might have brought into the house as decoration) find a spot in your garden you don’t mind giving to wildlife. Remove the branches from your tree and cut or saw the trunk into logs. Then pile your logs and place your branches on top. It may not look all too fancy for us, but your little pile of wood will soon be home to all sorts of tiny insects and, perhaps, even small mammals and amphibians.
Don’t worry if the pile starts to rot, if anything this makes it more attractive to our tiny garden creatures. If you add a fresh Christmas trees to the pile each year you’ll build up a veritable bug hotel. If you run out of space, remember you can recycle your Christmas tree at your local recycling centre. Alternatively why not have a living Christmas tree which you can keep potted up outside and bring in each Christmas? This cuts down on your tree’s carbon footprint and saves you money year after year.
Roughly a billion Christmas cards are sent in the UK every festive season. Be they snowy scenes, red squirrels perched on branches, or penguins scratching out their puns in the ice, many of our cards celebrate our wildlife. So why not pay nature a little something back by getting a charity Christmas card from a conservation organisation, such as Cheshire Wildlife Trust? In 2015 it was estimated that around £50m was raised for good causes through the sales of charity Christmas cards. Some of this money has gone into protecting the very creatures and landscapes we celebrate on our cards.
Remember when you’re done with your card, help nature again by reusing or recycling it. Cards can be reused by cutting up your favourites to make present tags, banners or decorate gift boxes for next year. Most kerbside collections will take Christmas cards with the cardboard but it’s worth keeping your eyes open for charities collecting old cards to raise money for their causes. Additionally many supermarkets now offer to take cards on behalf of a charity. Every card recycled saves new trees from being cut down. When recycling, remember to remove any non-recyclable parts like stuck on gems or bows.
Visit www.cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/shop to see our festive wildlife cards and our 2017 calendar
Walk around any garden centre or supermarket at Christmas time and you’ll see a row of shiny baubles and lines of glittering tinsel. But just like our artificial Christmas tree, these plastic items will outlast us by several lifetimes. Why not try a more traditional Christmas decoration? In many cultures, early Christmas trees were hung with nuts, dried fruits and strings of berries. For your dried fruit decorations, all you need to do is cut a selection of citrus fruit into quarter inch slices, and slowly dry them in the oven at 75° for three to four hours, flipping them occasionally. With a little string they can be hung wherever you like. The great thing about these decorations is they can either be put in with your household waste when you’re finished with them, or things like nuts, berries and even popcorn can be put out for birds and squirrels. If you’re leaving them for the animals, remember not to give anything which has added sugar or salt and remove any non-edible parts.
If you don’t fancy making your own decorations then why not go for items made from natural products? Traditional Swedish straw decorations are still popular today, and glass or wooden items are often easier to recycle then those made of plastic.
When the kitchen windows are steamed and the smell of Brussels sprouts has filled the air, we may think there is nothing we can do here for nature. But one of the simplest ways we can help our wildlife is by watching what goes down our kitchen sink.
Although water is cleaned in treatment plants before being released back into our rivers and lakes, some things are still too difficult to remove. Phosphates from many cleaning products end up in our waterways even today, causing algal blooms which starve the water of oxygen leading to a loss of aquatic life, from fish to insects to underwater plants.
These changes affect all kinds of animals, right up to our native otters and water voles. So why not clean up this Christmas by buying a bio-degradable washing up liquid. Most supermarkets now stock at least one brand which is environmentally sensitive, just check the label to be sure. For guidance on what to put and not put down the sink this Christmas (and the rest of the year) visit www.cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/lovemyestuary.
Last minute shoppers stuck for Christmas gift ideas need look no further than Cheshire Wildlife Trust for inspiration. From hedgehog action packs and barn owl adoption packs, to binoculars and gift memberships – there are many thoughtful presents that will be a gift for a loved one and for wildlife too, as all proceeds from the online shop go towards CWT’s work.
Visit www.cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/shop for large gifts and stocking fillers.