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All I want for Xmas: A Yorkshire Dales tree

Friday 09 November 2007

Our countryside commentator John Sheard resists the nostalgia of Christmas shopping past to marvel at a new gift from cyberspace which will help put the trees back into the Yorkshire Dales

WHEN I was nobutt a lad back in the "olden days" (as my children used to say), this was a time of the year of some irritation for me. The world, you see, was gearing up for the Great Christmas Shopping Stampede that was a panic I resolutely avoided.

Before a wife and kids came along, I did my Christmas shop on Christmas Eve after lunchtime in the pub and it meant that my family got some unusual pressies: a hacksaw set for a maiden aunt, perhaps, or some golf balls for Mum who hadn't played the game since the 1920s.

All I want for Xmas: A Yorkshire Dales tree
All I want for Xmas: A Yorkshire Dales tree

But since our children had their children, life has become much more difficult - particularly when you have two grandchildren 7,000 miles away in South East Asia. Posting presents costs a fortune, takes forever and, sad to report, the gifts often get lost or stolen in the post.

You can, of course, put money into their bank accounts electronically but that is a little soulless. So even with over a month to go, my wife and I were wondering what to do. Then, this week, the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT) came up with a corker: plant a virtual tree and let the kiddiewinks watch it grow...on the Web!

As we have reported in these pages before, the Yorkshire Dales are one of the tree-poorest districts in the British Isles, thanks mainly to landowners who cleared the forests back in the 18th Century to make way for sheep (at least they were not as bad as Scottish lairds, who instead got rid of people in the notorious Highland Clearances).

To try and put this matter right, the YDMT has for some years been encouraging people to plant a tree for Christmas for a mere £15. Not a Christmas tree, you understand, not a fast-growing fir or pine (we have enough of those, thanks to the Forestry Commission of the 1960s) but a native English broadleaf variety which will outlast its recipient and probably is recipients' grandchildren too.

Now this is a splendid idea for people based here in Yorkshire or even further afield in the UK: a child presented with such a gift can visit the tree once it has been planted and gets a commemorative certificate, a lifetime's excuse for making regular visits to the Dales: "Mum, I want to see my tree?"

But what about people like me, whose grandchildren count the distance to the Dales in the thousands, rather than the hundreds, of miles. Or, for that matter, elderly folk who might find travel difficult, not to mention expensive.

So plant a tree for Christmas - it's for life, for you and your children and probably their children too

The YDMT has come up with a novel solution to this dilemma: planting "virtual trees" whose progress, over the years and even decades, can be followed at the click of a mouse on the world wide web.

For a mere £10, the trust will plant a "virtual" tree with a difference in your name, an animated tree which will grow as would the real thing over the years so that you can log in at will to see its progress - and receive a down-loadable certificate of "ownership."

At the same time, a real tree will be planted and you will be able to see the woodland it grows in and receive regular progress reports. In other words, wander in "your wood" and admire "your tree" at the touch of a key - many of the benefits of ownership without the hassle of actually caring for it.

Many of the grandiose schemes launched to mark the arrival of the 21st Century almost eight years ago have ended in tears. Some have been scrapped, many of them forgotten within a single decade. The Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust set out to do small, practical projects well - and is still going strong. So plant a tree for Christmas - it's for life, for you and your children and probably their children too!

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