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Tree Guard Cleanup Day

On Saturday 21 May 2022, our Trustee Chris Steibelt was out in Singleton Forest with volunteers and Forestry England representatives for our first tree guard cleanup day, collecting redundant tree guards to be sent off for recycling.

Tree planting forms a key part of our goal to reach net zero carbon emissions in the next three decades. We all love trees! Most planted saplings need some form of protection from rodents and deer in order to survive until they are well established. The common solution is to use a tree guard. These need to be durable and translucent for at least five years and the most cost-effective solution to date is those made of plastic. The good news is, technology has advanced and not all that plastic is fossil fuel based. Today, many products made with UV stabilised polypropylene which is generally recyclable. Regardless, redundant tree guards remain a problem. National Park campaigners, like the Friends of the Yorkshire Dales, have called for a ban on plastic tree guards. And whether the tree guards are recyclable or not, the fact is they are forgotten for decades, choking the trees they are meant to protect or littering the forest floor.

“I’m pleased to report that our recent tree guard cleanup day, collecting ageing plastic tree guards in Singleton Forest, was a success thanks to help of our team of 10 volunteers supported by Forestry England,” Chris said. “Over 750 were gathered up, some 20 years or more after their original placement. It was sad to see that in a number of cases, the plastic tree guards had actually strangled the tree resulting in its premature death. After removing the non-recyclable plastic zip ties, they were stowed into jumbo bags ready for collection and recycling.

“It is reassuring to hear from Forestry England that of the seven million trees they plant each year only 2% are protected with this type of tree guard and what’s more they are now doing trials of biocompostable guards. In addition, they have taken steps to improve their record keeping of exactly where and when plastic tree guards have been used.”

That sounds relatively encouraging for the future but what about all the mess created in the past? Should it be it left for volunteer groups to tidy up or should we press for more accountability on the part of our forestry managers? What do you think?

A spokesperson for Forestry England said:

“We continuously seek out environmentally friendly alternatives, but due to the lack of a credible, biodegradable alternative, we’ve used tree guards made from UV stabilised Polypropylene to protect the young tees from browsing by deer and rabbits and ensure the best chance of reaching maturity.

“Forestry England’s policy is for all tree shelters to be collected and removed from sites at the end of their useful life – about 10 -15 years after planting. We’re now able to keep track of areas where tree guards have been used, so that once they’ve served their purpose, we can send them to be recycled.

“Forestry England plants seven million trees each year across the nation’s forests and of these only around 2% need to have tree guards to protect them from damage. This amounts to approximately 150,000 tree guards per year. We are continuing with trials of sustainable alternatives to plastic tree guards and as soon as products become commercially available which are high enough quality and durable, we will be ready to switch over and use them for all new tree planting.

“We are already making positive changes and nearby at Queen Elizabeth Country Park and Forest we have used biodegradable alternatives for our tree planting this year and hope to scale this up nationally in autumn and winter of 2022/23.”