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Christmas presents for the countryside

Friday 26 November 2010

It’s that time of the year again and our countryside commentator John Sheard, who tends to do his Christmas shopping on December 24, recommends some gifts with a countryside theme for people who prefer to prepare somewhat earlier

A market research programme published last week suggested that there really is a battle of the sexes when it comes to Christmas shopping. Some women, it said, begin to think of their yuletide preparations as early as July whereas men leave it to the very last minute.

Now I tend to take most of these surveys with a hundredweight of salt, for they are often bent in the direction to benefit most the retail organisation which has commissioned them. But this one, in our house at least, held more than a grain of truth.

A country Christmas

My lady wife put on display a Christmas present wish list three weeks ago whereas I like to do my gift shopping on Christmas Eve morning before a lunch time pint (or perhaps a mulled wine) in the pub, a habit which exasperates Mrs S (the shopping, I mean: the lady enjoys a mulled wine with the best.

So what should I put of her list? What should Santa bring me? I am far from being the legendary Man who has Everything but I do possess 11 fishing rods, of which I regularly use but four (another subject for wifely exasperation, I’m afraid) and I long ago gave up dreams of an Aston Martin: it would be totally unsuitable for the motoring I do here in the Yorkshire Dales.

So far, all I can think of is another compost bin to the three I already have at the allotment (I compost a lot of weeds, you see) or some posh, ready made-up cloches to save me wrestling with flying plastic sheeting or agricultural fleece on a windy day. Useful, these, but difficult to wrap and leave under the Christmas tree.

So if there are others out there like me, men, women and especially children who love the countryside but have no idea what they would like to receive or buy as Christmas gifts, could I put forward a few suggestions. They all come from charities for which I have the greatest respect and will either actually improve the countryside or our knowledge of it – and benefit a good cause too.

What should Santa bring me? I am far from being the legendary Man who has Everything...

To start close to home, the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust has a small but well chosen display of books about the Dales which would sit well on any coffee table. But what I like best is that for £15 you can pay to have a native broadleaf tree planted and have the recipients receive a commemorating certificate and an invitation to visit “their” tree when it is planted.

The Woodland Trust offers a similar tree planting opportunity but I particularly like their offer of membership for children (or their teacher) in their Nature Detectives Club which organises weekend outings to learn about the great out doors. You can enrol one kiddie for £12 or two for £20.

The British Trust for Ornithology, which has good cause to be considered the world’s foremost avian science body, has as you would expect a large collection of books, including basic guides to garden birds. But I particularly like their Animal Tracks Casting Kit which, for a mere £4.99p allows children to identify what animals have left their tracks in the mud. Children? I would love one of these myself.

With trees and birds covered, I feel we should also do something for our mammals and that takes me to one of my favourites, the British Hedgehog Protection Society which, idiosyncratic as it sounds, has some 11,000 members. It offers books, paintings, calendars and stunning g greetings cards but best of all – am I regressing to childhood? – hedgehog glove puppets (£3.99) or a hedgehog pencil sharpener for a minimal £1.20p.

These are just four of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of charities which offer Christmas gifts and cards, all of them no doubt worthy of support. My choice four are there because I have worked with them all in the past and know just how much good they do.

They work hard for tiny rewards to make our countryside a better place to live in or a better place to visit. When I look at some of the astronomical prices of today’s electronic games and gifts for children, my choices are both cheaper and a good deal healthier. They are also much more fun. Happy Christmas shopping.

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