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Tree Guards: Protectors or Polluters?

Chris Steibelt, Trustee, is heading a new project and tells us why Friends of the South Downs have decided to launch this campaign

It’s more than likely for this to be a common sight in our countryside in the coming years as the UK Government sets ambitious targets for planting as many as 3000 hectares of woodland per annum. That’s a good thing though, isn’t it? Tree planting forms a key part of our goal to reach net zero carbon emissions in the next three decades. We all love trees!

Chris Steibelt and Lottie

Our enthusiasm at Friends of the South Downs for this ambitious government initiative is tainted just a little. 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. How could this be a problem?

All too often, tree guards are left to deteriorate

The problem: our countryside is already littered with redundant tree guards. We also have the prospect of another 9 million being added each year! In our haste to plant trees it seems we haven’t really thought hard enough about who will recover the guards and who will bear the cost.  

At Friends of the South Downs, we want to create more awareness on this issue and explore the options. We have decided to launch a new campaign, as inspired by the fantastic work of The Friends of the Dales, not to stop the use of tree guards, but to:

•             Increase public awareness both within the South Downs National Park and nationally

•             Call for greater accountability for removal of redundant tree guards – you put them in, you take them out!

•             Lobby tree planting organisations to use alternative methods

•             Work with the South Downs National Park Authority to introduce regulations within the Park covering the use of tree guards

•             Encourage greater use of bio compostable tree guards

•             Organize collection days around the South Downs National Park to remove redundant tree guards

Otterburn, 2019. The Friends of the Dales with Plastic Free Skipton. Tubes reused by Skipton Town Council

We’d like to hear your views. Have you come across areas of woodland with disintegrating tree guards? Please send us your photos and location (OS grid ref/ What3words / WhatsApp – share your location). Would you and your family be willing to help us on a collection day? Please drop us a line using the Contact Us button above or share to our Facebook page.

Chris Steibelt