A plastic free future…

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Logo: Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust

By Mike Appleton, Plastic Free Woodlands Officer

young trees in tree guards next to established trees in a meadow (Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust)
It has been suggested that 50 million trees per year need to be planted to counteract Britain’s contribution to climate change. That could mean 1.5 billion plastic tubes in use by 2050 (Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust)

Thanks to support from the European Outdoor Conservation Association, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust’s Plastic Free Woodlands project has already made significant progress in removing redundant plastic tree guards from the Yorkshire Dales landscape, championing alternatives, and highlighting the issue of plastics in forestry nationally.

It has been suggested that a staggering 50 million trees per year need to be planted to counteract Britain’s contribution to climate change.

As trees are often planted using plastic tubes that could mean that up to 1.5 billion plastic tubes could end up littering our environment and damaging ecosystems by 2050.

bags of tree guards to be recycled (Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust)
More than 38,000 plastic tree guards have been collected and sent for recycling as part of the project (Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust)

YDMT’s Plastic Free Woodlands project aims to create change in the forestry sector and a different approach to establishing new woodland.

Removing The Legacy…

The first part of the project looks at the existing plastic tubes in the Dales landscape and how to engage with landowners to remove them for recycling.

Working with volunteers, community groups and farmers, YDMT has removed an estimated 38,000 tubes from around the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale.

Project Officer Mike Appleton said: “We did this by allowing landowners to bring their tubes to two collection points in the Dales – one at Craven Auction Mart and the other in Appersett – and then having them collected for recycling by Tubex.

“We worked with each landowner to make sure they had the correct waste transfer process; and the same can be said for the collection points too. We had to register waste exemptions for them to ensure they came under the correct Environment Agency rules. The project has set a benchmark for the establishment of nationwide collection points.”

YDMT worked with more than 180 volunteers – including young people and children experiencing vulnerabilities, alongside community groups. They helped to clear an estimated 4,000 tubes, with an additional 400 set to be reused.


Removing redundant guards is one part of the jigsaw, but the norm is still to plant trees using plastic tubes. They provide protection from voles, rabbits and deer and help the trees grow through an enhanced micro-climate, depending on the species.

tree emerging from tree guard (Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust)
YDMT’s project aims to remove and recycle plastic tree guards and trial alternatives (Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust)

But giving woodland creators an alternative to planting with plastic is key if we are to create a change in the industry.

Working with six landowners across the Dales and Nidderdale, YDMT planted 8,665 trees last winter, with each site having up to six different types of plastic tree guards. The project has also seen completely plastic free planting too. The sites range from lowland to riparian, to the more exposed landscapes near Pen-y-Ghent.

It is early days in the trial but already the results are helping manufacturers understand where their product works best. YDMT are also feeding into Forest Research’s national trial which will begin this winter.


Person removing a tree guard being filmed (Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust)
Driving the issue of the use of plastic in the landscape is key if we are to change attitudes (Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust)

Removing tubes and trialling alternatives will give landowners a real choice in creating and managing woodland but it will take a real system change for this to happen across the sector.

YDMT is a founder member of the Forest Plastics Working Group which meets quarterly with a wide number of national organisations including government agencies, tree nurseries and leading charities to raise the issue of plastic use in woodlands.

The group aims to advocate and facilitate good practice around use of plastic in forestry, research, and share information on tree tube alternatives and promote the environmental benefits that result from forestry and forest management.

The issue has also featured on BBC Look North and Sky News, as well as a range of regional and national media – and YDMY have worked with Friends of the Dales and the Countryside Landowners Association.

Next steps…

This winter YDMT is planting 3,100 trees without plastic tubes, trailing new alternatives. and putting into place new collection points ready for tubes to be recycled.

More tree guard removal will take place at varying sites across the Dales, using community groups, our partners, and other volunteers.

YDMT will also host a conference on what has changed in woodland creation in the last two years -championing plastic free woodlands!

If you want to know more, you can drop YDMT a line here.

Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT) is a small charity doing big things to support the people, landscape and wildlife of the Dales.

To date the charity has helped to deliver inspiring projects in the Yorkshire Dales and surrounding areas. These projects cover areas as diverse as countryside apprenticeships, supporting local communities, education and outreach, restoring woodlands and wildlife habitats, and improving access and understanding of this special place.

The Trust has recruited more than 60,000 supporters to date. Find out more at

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Posted On: 13/12/2021

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