Work & Education

Catsfield Christmas Tree Farm

Clive Collins has always wanted his own Christmas tree farm, but after an accident in 1990, which resulted in a broken back (T12/L1 complete), he wasn’t sure if this would ever happen. But through adaptation and a little know-how he found a way to pursue his dream…

Having trained, and worked, in forestry and having just bought a farm, I’ve been set on selling Christmas trees for many years. Initially I thought the accident had ruined all my chances of this happening. But, while lying in Stoke Mandeville hospital on my back, it struck me that not all my dreams had been taken away from me and that I could still grow Christmas trees. It would mean I would need to hire people to help plant the trees, but surely I could then just sit and watch them grow!

Looking back, my real plan was to sit around being fairly sad and do as little as possible. After I left hospital I was still fairly ill. I became severely depressed, got into recreational drugs and alcohol and enjoyed the regular occurrence of bladder infections. But I decided that if I planted some trees it would at least look like I was doing something; at that time in my life status was very important to me, as well as a secure income.

So the plan was simple: plant lots and make lots of money! In 1992, I planted 6,000 Christmas trees, then 12,000 in 1993 and another 14,000 in 1995. These plantings left me short of money and a little short of land.

After some time I realised that having planted all these trees I might have to work hard to sell them; it wasn’t going to happen by some Christmas miracle! I studied marketing and sales for two years and I started to take some advice from consultant Adrian Morgan, the leading specialist in the culture and marketing of Christmas Trees in the UK. Adrian later became my business and personal mentor, as well as a good friend.

After talking to him, I understood where I was making mistakes in the business, namely not planting enough of a variety of trees, not expanding the business to offer more than just the trees, and not getting involved as proactively as I should have been. It was not until I took a more ‘hands on’ approach to my tree business and, crucially, made it accessible, that I began to see any degree of success.

To cut a long story short, after following his advice I have sold all the trees I planted in 1997 and I now have tree plantings for every year from 2002 to 2011 (excluding 2005) and am enjoying a fairly strong wholesale business and a rapidly expanding retail business.

The reasons I run my tree business now are less to do with money and a lot more to do with teaching myself assertiveness, self confidence, people skills and making me feel good about the way I am.

Running around my farm and attending to my stock means I need an accessible environment. Gates need to swing easily so I have designed various systems which allow me to open and close them. I have acquired various machines, such as a Hydrostatic mower (which has no clutch, brake or gear stick) so I can get amongst the trees easily and mow between them.

Certain jobs around the farm are not ‘viable’ for me to approach, so for these I have found key people to assist me: a farm engineer, a tree pruner, an executive salesman, a consultant, an agricultural contractor and people to run the shop during busy times.

I hope you will come to visit us at the accessible Catsfield Christmas Tree Farm. You can learn more about the farm, trees and shop by visiting our website.

By Clive Collins

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