The eco-ethics of Christmas trees is a topic close to the hearts of many at Morvan Natural Park.
These remote mountains of Burgundy produce more than a million baby firs for the market every year, making the region France’s leading producer.
But for every local who rejoices in the money and jobs generated by Christmas trees, there is another who bemoans its impact on the natural environment.
Here, as elsewhere, only a small percentage of Christmas tree plantations are run on organic lines.
Most depend on the use of chemical treatments.
And if efforts are made to reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides, no one will seriously dispute their negative effects.
“The production of Christmas trees, due to the use of chemical herbicides, may have an impact on water resources,” reads the park’s website.
“That’s why action is taken to reduce the impact of this activity to the maximum, and make it compatible with high quality water.”
Claiming the authorities is the least of these, according to campaigners.
Muriel Andr, a local farmer and activist, took us to see what she said was a typical small hillside plantation near her home.
A field that was once used for pasture now has about 20,000 saplings, planted by an absentee farmer from a neighboring department, or province.
Around the outer perimeter, grasses and weeds grow in abundance, but under the baby trees there is nothing – only soil and a few clumps of dead plants.
“That’s from the herbicides, which they spray to prevent any plants that might compete with the trees,” he said.
“Then there are pesticides for insects and fungicides for parasites. It’s a monoculture that kills biodiversity and leaks chemicals into our rivers.”
“I have nothing against Christmas trees. I have my own memories of decorating them as a girl,” said Ms Andr.
“But times have changed. We are living through an ecological transition. Everything that pollutes must stop.
“People in cities are fooled by marketing that tells them that Christmas trees are ‘natural’ – as if they all come from some magic forest. The truth is that it’s a form of intensive agriculture.”
Environmental campaigners are not the only ones questioning the ethics of Christmas trees.
French consumers are also very curious about the origin of their Nordmanns and Epicea.
Is it responsible, they ask, to fast-track millions of trees only to cut them down and put them in living rooms in two weeks?
Talking to passers-by near a wood supplier in the center of Paris, everyone we asked said that the environment is now an important factor in their choice if there is sapin de Nol.
Some said they stopped buying it altogether. For others it is confusing. While recognizing the environmental impact of the plantations, they wonder if importing a plastic tree from China is a good alternative.
Few think of “green” alternatives such as wooden sculptures or home-made assemblies.
According to Morvan producers, buyers are certainly growing more curious about the origin of their trees. But so far there has been little impact on sales.
At the Naudet company in Planchez, which has been growing Christmas trees since 1956, they admit that in the past little attention was paid to herbicide problems. But it has changed, they said.
“All the criticisms we get are based on a complete ignorance of our current practices,” said director-general Martin Naudet.
“We made a lot of efforts to reduce our use of chemicals, and you can see in our plantations today that there is a lot of biodiversity.”
In a nearby plantation, we were shown lines of trees where the undergrowth looked rich and abundant. In another field, they experimented with sowing buckwheat (sarrasin) between the rows, which served as a natural weed control.
Martin Naudet points out that only 1% of Morvan’s fertile agricultural land is given over to Christmas trees. In the vast hills and forests, plantations are only a small part of the landscape.
But the fact remains that there is almost no production of Christmas trees without chemicals. “People tried,” said Martin Naudet. “But the trees don’t sell. They’re too expensive and they don’t look good.”
In other words, our Christmas evergreens aren’t really “green” at all.
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Image Source : www.bbc.com