Forestry Plastic Group

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By Richard Hunter, Technical and Industry Support Manager

It seems odd that an industry so in touch with its green side uses so much plastic, but then plastic is a fantastic material when used in the right way, for the right reasons and disposed of correctly after use. The Forestry Plastic Group formed out of a desire to combat the misuse of plastics in forestry especially the tree tube. Tree tubes they have a multitude of names and come in just as many sizes & types but typically are green, brown or clear. They are effective at protecting a newly planted tree from rabbits, deer and the worst of the weather, they are so good at this that we have about 18 million in the environment right now. The majority are doing their job well, however, some escape, fall over and make a nuisance of themselves or they just get forgotten about. When this happens, we need to clear up the mess and this can be costly. Several different organisations started working independently on the subject, each with similar but distinct aims. When the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust hosted a conference on the topic in 2019 it was quickly realised that a wider group would allow ideas to be shared and avenues explored without duplicating work. The group now meets once a quarter and has already started some big projects.

600mm tubes in action (Richard Hunter)
600mm tubes in action (Richard Hunter)

The group’s main project has been to commission Forest Research to undertake a trial of new generation tree tubes. Many companies have listened to the woodland creation sector and started producing tree tubes made from alternative materials. In order to test the manufacturers claims two trial sites will be set up and monitored over the next five years. Many of the alternative materials are composites and we don’t know how they will react or survive in the environment, hence the need for an independent trial. However, several of the group’s members have also undertaken their own trials as the need for results is pressing, as an industry and nation we need to reduce our plastic consumption. The meetings, therefore, allow for the sharing of knowledge around the members as well as from invited guests. One recent guest was Joe Rosi, Defra Waste Team, talking about how Defra sees the problem of plastic waste and their next steps for reducing plastic. The group is, therefore, taking a proactive approach towards tackling elements such as tubes, without such an approach it would be easier to have restrictions or bans imposed upon the forest industry, as we saw with plastic drinking straws in the hospitality sector.

No deer food here (Richard Hunter)
No deer food here (Richard Hunter)

It’s all very well for a group of organisations to come together and discuss what we are doing but we need to spread the message as well. To achieve this there are three strands in progress:

1. a webpage is being created

2. a guidance note being written

3. a conference planned for 2022

There has been considerable interest in the group and its work, so first stop is a webpage as many interested parties simply want to know the outputs of the group. As the group does not have any capital funding to host out own website, it will have a page donated by Confor. The webpage will be updated after each meeting and also host documents produced by the group.

When written the guidance note will cover the use of tree tubes, alternative materials and methods. It is intended as a first stop for those thinking about tubes but does not replace good forestry advice on the ground. The interest in planting trees has never been greater, however, we want to educate people new to tree planting that there are other options to plastic tubes. It may be that an alternative tube is best suited or the right type of fence; it’s true that trees establish without our help but they have a much higher survival rate with our help.

A conference on tree tubes! The group has been lucky to have watched and listened to some great guest speakers on the topic of plastic. The conference will be an opportunity to talk about the plastic supply chain, the chemical structure of plastic, the life span and its interactions with the environment. The more we know and understand about the materials we use the better we can then deal with them. The conference is an opportunity to share some of the fantastic research that is being done on the topic.

Rabbits keep off! (Richard Hunter)
Rabbits keep off! (Richard Hunter)

Tree tubes are one of the biggest plastic problems in forestry but considering them has made us consider other plastic made products, these include temporary signage, delivery & packaging materials. Again, the members of the group have been working on this independently and then bring the results to the meetings where we can all learn from it.

Before plastic was invented, we were growing and managing trees. However, times have changed and we can’t just revert back to the old methods; we need to be innovative and constructive. The England Trees Action Plan has put the spot light on forestry as an industry and we are stepping up to it. We want to plant more trees to capture and store more carbon than ever before, however we don’t want the methods to outweigh the results hence the importance of the group, we don’t always see eye to eye but we all want to reduce plastic in our woodlands and forests.

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Posted On: 18/11/2021

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