Rooting for Change: Plastic-Free Woodlands

All through this week we’re celebrating Earth Day, an annual awareness day which focuses on a specific environmental issue every year; this year’s theme is Planet vs. Plastic. Even though we spend countless hours cleaning up our rivers and picking up plastic, we know that sometimes, it’s unavoidable. However, now we’re fighting back against single use plastic, especially plastic tree guards!

Plastic tree guards

You’ve likely spotted these green plastic tree guards dotted around the Ribble catchment, shielding saplings as we restore woodland cover and connect habitats. Whilst they safeguard from nibbling herbivores and create a lovely little microclimate for these tender trees, they’re introducing plastic into our green spaces.

At Ribble Rivers Trust, we’re on a mission to reduce the volume of plastic we’re using in our woodlands. Firstly, when we remove the tree guards, we try and reuse them wherever feasible. Of course, this isn’t always possible. Especially in exposed areas where the tree guards are well and truly put to the test! So, we collect the guards and store them. Once we have amassed enough, they can be sent to a special waste carrier. Depending on the type of plastic, they can either recycle them or industrially compost them.

In recent planting seasons, we’ve experimented with ditching plastic tree guards entirely where hungry herbivores like deer, rabbits, and voles aren’t a threat. Though still in its infancy, this approach involves planting at a higher density to compensate for potential losses. If gaps emerge, we’ll promptly fill them to maintain a balanced woodland ecosystem.

This isn’t the only plastic free option. Recently we have been lucky enough to receive a generous donation of Tree Hugger tubes. These tubes are made of a natural resin. This means that they will biodegrade slowly, lasting just long enough for the tree to grow to a size where it will be able to survive independently. Plus, the design of the Tree Huggers has had some subtle, but very clever improvements, with air holes which allow a natural breeze through the tubes, enhancing ventilation and sunlight penetration through clever design features. Going forward, we’re hoping that we’ll be able to use more of these guards on our sites.

Tree nurseries

If you’ve ever been tree planting with us, then you’ll know many of the tree saplings we buy in come wrapped in plastic. There’s no denying that this is necessary for our tree growers, as it helps to ensure healthy growth and protects the saplings during transportation. This means that tree growers can successfully meet the huge demand for saplings.

But plastic is still plastic! With support from Forestry England and private donors, we’ve established tree nurseries to nurture our own saplings. Our wonderful volunteers carefully collect a small number of native seeds from various ancient woodlands around the catchment. These seeds are then grown in our nurseries, where we lovingly tend to them.

Our aim is to use as much recycled materials as possible in these nurseries. From old pallets for raised beds, disused IBCs as water butts, and secondhand plant pots, we’re making tree growing as ecofriendly, and plastic free, as possible.

Around the office

Our commitment to reducing plastic extends beyond the woodlands. We’ve opted for a local milk delivery service, sourcing coffee from a plastic-free roaster, and selecting caterers who use paper food wrappings and reusable trays for events. All of these suppliers are located within a couple of miles of our office. Recycling is ingrained in our office culture, ensuring almost everything finds a second life! From crisp packets to our paper shreddings, which are used for compost!

Going plastic-free, or at least minimizing plastic use, is achievable with small changes. Lead by example, and soon your colleagues will follow suit.

Join us in rooting for change as we strive for a plastic-free future!

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