The Friends have planted hundreds of trees in the reserve over the years but a new study has concluded that we should be planting our trees without plastic tree guards. Research has shown that there are significant carbon emissions from the manufacture of plastic guards, they are not always collected after use and, left in the environment, they break down into damaging microplastics.
For the past fifty years it has been standard practice to plant trees in translucent plastic tubes to protect them from browsing animals but the latest research has found that it is better for the environment to lose a certain number of trees to browsers than to use plastic guards to protect them. Scientists found that 85% of saplings survive if they are planted with guards and only 50% survive without; they have concluded that rather than using tree guards so that more saplings survive, it will be better for the environment to accept a reduced survival rate and to go plastic-free
Saplings from the Woodland Trust in 2019, planted in plastic pots, and the Friends planting trees in plastic guards. We, and the Woodland Trust, now know that we have to change our practice and we hope that the money for us to make that change in the reserve will come from Wiltshire Council.
The Friends are eager eco-warriors, always willing to change their working practices for the good of the reserve, and they approached the Countryside Team to see if this new study’s recommendations could be applied in the park. The Countryside Team replied:
…at this stage we […] can’t commit to not using plastic even though we would love to go down that route. We predominantly receive grants for tree planting therefore unless the charities that we receive the trees from make the move we simply don’t have the funds at present to use a different material.
The Countryside Team manages about thirty of the county’s unspoiled publicly-accessible small green spaces (Southwick Country Park Nature Reserve is among the largest) on a very tight budget, every penny of which comes from from Wiltshire Council. This means that we (and you) should be demanding these vital changes to environmental policy from Wiltshire Council, not from the dedicated, knowledgeable and ever-underfunded Countryside Team and their motley crews of volunteers.
The Woodland Trust, one of the UK’s largest tree planters, is proposing to stop using plastic tree guards by the end of this year. It is trialling plastic-free options, including cardboard and wool, at its Avoncliff site right here in Wiltshire. Their plan is to plant 10 million trees, without plastic guards, every year until 2025.
We need to make sure that Wiltshire Council is in this loop, au fait with the latest research and ready to fund eco-friendly tree planting, not only in our Nature Reserve but throughout the whole county.
Wiltshire Council’s Environment Select Committee is responsible for reviewing the work of the departments for Transport, Environment & Leisure and Economic Development, Planning & Housing. The committee chair is Cllr Jerry Kunkler and the support officer is Stuart Figini whose email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The phone number is 01225 718221.
Let’s ask them if they are planning to implement the recommendations of the latest research into plastic-free management of our precious green spaces.
Historically speaking, Wiltshire is a county of farms and large estates to which the public do not have free access; politically speaking, Wiltshire is, and always has been, overwhelmingly conservative. Not only has the council’s funding of publicly accessible green space diminished year by year, but they show no sign of even wanting to reverse the policy. It’s hard not to conclude that the public’s wellbeing isn’t very high on their agenda. Our green spaces seem to have been identified as one of those areas where savings can be made.
This is SO short-sighted. The pandemic has shown us how important green spaces and access to them are for our mental health, the UN has started the clock on some kind of count down to an enviromental apocalypse, and meanwhile Wiltshire has cut the Southwick’s Nature Reserve’s budget to the point where the volunteers have to bring their own tools.