Dales Woodland Restoration

Tree planting is one of the most important things you can do for the environment. We’re working together with our partners and supporters to create a landscape with more native broadleaf woodlands for people and wildlife.

Plastic tree guards protect new trees as they grow, enabling many saplings to survive that would otherwise die. But the plastic they leave behind is polluting our soils and waterways. YDMT is driving an industry-led response to the problem, paving a way forward for less single-use plastic in woodland creation.

Tree planting using plastic tree guards

Tree guards and plastic pollution in our woodlands

Hundreds of thousands of plastic tree guards are used every year to protect new trees as they grow.

These plastic guards enable trees to survive and thrive – acting as mini greenhouses and providing protection from browsing animals, weeds and herbicides until the tree is fully established.

Most tree guards are made from single-use plastic. It was thought that plastic guards would naturally biodegrade over time, but we now recognize that they often disintegrate into smaller fragments and find their way into our soils and waterways.   

There are now some biodegradable alternatives to the plastic tree guard – but none yet that are sustainable, compostable and can effectively protect saplings for the required amount of time.   

Tree planting and the future of tree guards

The government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said up to 19% of the UK needs to be covered with trees by 2050 in order to meet its target to reach net zero emissions. That will mean planting 1.5 billion trees, at least 30,000 hectares every year.

There has never been a more critical time to re-think our approach to plastics in woodland creation.  

In order to stop plastic pollution in our new woodlands all those involved in woodland creation need to work collectively to:

  • Minimise the use of single-use plastic tree guards – using alternative methods of woodland creation and management where appropriate.
  • Manage existing plastic guards responsibly and recycle or dispose of them post-use.
  • Call for alternative and sustainable solutions to single-use plastic tree guards – that are either re-usable or completely biodegradable.

We all have a responsibility for the problem, and a part to play in the solution.

Our Plastic Free Woodlands project, supported by the European Outdoor Conservation Association, will seek to address this and suggest alternatives to plastic tree guards. Read more here.

Plastic tree guards – the conference

YDMT has supported the planting of almost 1.5 million trees since we first started out in 1996 working with many different organisations to achieve this. So we’re in a unique position to bring people from the forestry and tree planting sector together to create a collective force for change.  

Our conference ‘Plastic Tree Tubes – who needs them?’ aimed to start the conversation on plastic tree guards, paving a way forward for positive action.

Run in partnership with the United Bank of Carbon and the University of Leeds in 2019, the conference was attended by professionals from across the forestry and tree planting sector. The overwhelming response from those who attended was the need for collective action, collaboration and innovation. Read the full report Plastic Tree Tubes – who needs them?     

Forestry Plastic Group 

In January 2020 we helped establish the Forestry Plastic Group - to provide guidance and share information about plastic use in forestry and to promote the environmental benefits of forest management.  

The Forestry Plastic Group will draw on the collective experience, skills and knowledge of members from across the industry to advocate best practice and collaborate on research and innovation. Working with different stakeholders the Group aims to improve how we use and manage plastics as well as encouraging change in existing practices to help reduce the use of single-use plastic in woodland creation.

If you’d like to be involved in the conversation about reducing plastics in woodland creation, and find out what action we're taking to address the problem please get in touch. Email our Woodland Officer carol.douglas@ydmt.org