It’s Not Easy Being Green
The long-term benefits of Forestry and planting trees is well documented, but just how green is the establishment process, particularly in the first 3-5 years?
Most people would accept the value in planting a tree, and the overall gains in terms of carbon sequestration, conservation, timber production and amenity speak for themselves. However, when we look at the best practice for tree protection at the establishment phase, the short-term cost must also be taken into consideration.
Since the late 1980’s (when I would have been cringing listening to my Mum sing along to “A Groovy Kind of Love”) trees have been protected by plastic tubes, netting or spiral guards. This is necessary to protect young trees from browsing and fraying damage, but also provide benefits in terms of providing a micro climate. My colleague’s dog, ‘Woody’, also likes to chew on them.
It seems to me that woodlands full of the remains of these plastic guards are, at the very least, unsightly but also potentially costly to the environment. There were over 1,579,000 grant-aided trees planted in England last year and it’s fair to assume the vast majority of these would have been in tubes and shelters. We have Sir David to thank for the recent groundswell of opinion against plastic and the disposal of non-recyclable materials. However, plastic products will, I’m sure, still play a vital role in years to come.
The question remains how we can use them responsibly. I’m often asked if we can re-use the tubes for the next planting scheme. Currently, the problem is the usable lifespan of the product. Most foresters like to keep the tube on for as long as possible, as this helps to guard against browsing and fraying damage. This can sadly be for as long as 8-10 years, and by this time the polypropylene (the main ingredient of the tube) is past its best for re-use as tree protection. This can mean that we often end up with tubes stacked in heaps or disposed off-site.
There have been moves to solve this problem. Some manufacturers have been grappling with the issue and we do now have possible alternatives, with claims for some plastic products which fully biodegrade in contact with soil. This seems to me to be a great halfway house, in that the plastic breaks down fully in the environment. It removes the need to extract them from the site, which can be a costly and time-consuming exercise. Further research is currently being carried out by Tubex and others such as Rainbow (info below).
I have already offered the new materials as alternatives on some of this coming year’s planting schemes, and some clients are very keen to try this out. I shall be monitoring the success with interest.
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