Old Christmas Trees Help Replenish Famous Scottish Sand Dunes

Published on January 10th 2020
A close up of a brick building
If the run-up to Christmas Day feels like a marathon, then things quickly turn to a sprint on Boxing Day. Almost in the blink of an eye, the holidays seem to be over; a blur of treats, family gatherings, and new dawn greetings.
After fretting about where to pick up a fine Christmas tree, and pondering the all-important decorations, it is probably now time to ditch the noble Fir for another year. It has served you well.
But what should you do with the Christmas tree?
Well, for people based near Fife, Scotland, a pretty intriguing opportunity has presented itself. It involves giving an old Christmas spruce a new home on a famous beachfront.
A chair sitting in front of a brick building

Tree donation

Fife Coast and Countryside Trust, an environmental charity that manages coastal paths and Lomond Hills Regional Park, has joined forces with St Andrews Links Trust to encourage people to donate old Christmas trees to a worthy cause.
For four years now, volunteers and Fife wildlife rangers have been working together to build up natural coastal features and defences just a stone’s throw, or a pitcher's wedge, away from the home of golf.
A nest in a tree
The project on West Sands Beach - beside St Andrews Golf Club - involves replacing destroyed or missing vegetation that would normally help compact sand. The main ingredient of this conservation effort? Yes, you guessed it, Christmas trees.
Last year more than 400 trees were upcycled by the coastal protection initiative that also prevents perfectly good timber from making its way into landfills.
Since December 28, members of the public have been able to drop off their tree donation at Fife Coast and Countryside Trust designated locations. They will now be deployed by volunteers to the West Sands beach, a popular tourist attraction.

How trees help...

It certainly sounds quirky, but the plan is also very practical. Winds batter this part of Scotland’s coast. Vegetation can become depleted over time through harsh weather conditions, or worn away over time through frequent visitors.
Such events will cause dune blowouts and depressions in the sand. Blowouts are where visitors are likely to take shelter in. But they can be a nightmare if you’re trying to maintain the coastal landscape.
A river running through a body of water
FCCT ranger Ranald Strachan works along this beautiful coastal fringe. He explained how the Christmas trees are a more recent addition to a conservation effort that has been going on for years.
‘The dunes have been under significant pressure from recreational use for decades and were quite degraded and in 2010 a large storm surge hit the beach destroying parts of the dune system,’ he told Candide Gardening.
Since 2016, old and unwanted Christmas trees have been an ally in the fight to preserve a beach that features in the iconic opening running scene in Chariots of Fire.
‘The trees are collected until the second weekend in January when we have a volunteer day to move the trees into a crater or blow out,’ Mr Strachan explained.
‘The reason being is that the crater is deep and cannot fill naturally with sand because of the wind pattern (venture principle).
‘So we raise the base level of the crater by using old Christmas trees, then place a layer of sand on top to filter down into the trees.’
Under the watchful eye of the Scottish Natural Heritage, Fife Coast and Countryside Trust and St Andrews Links Trust lead the way in working on the West Sands Beach.
Alongside local schools, the organisations plant Lyme and Marram grass to prevent erosion. Meanwhile, the dunes have become home to some interesting guests.
‘We improved the dunes health with support for wildlife and plants and introduced sheep onto areas behind the dunes to assist with conservation, some 60 Hebridean rare breed sheep are present September to March,’ Mr Strachan added.

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