Tree Shelters: Our research into plastic-free alternatives

Tree Shelters: Our research into plastic-free alternatives

Published April 14, 2024

Tree shelters otherwise known as tree guards are a widely discussed topic when it comes to tree planting. It’s natural to wonder why tree shelters are necessary at all. Trees have managed to grow on their own for millions of years, so why do we need to protect them now? Are tree guards necessary and if so, what are they made of? What happens to tree guards made of plastic and are there alternatives available to stop plastic pollution in our countryside? Here’s a look at what we are doing to reduce plastic pollution and our research into plastic-free alternatives in our forest sites.

Why do we need tree guards?

Over time, our ecosystem has changed, and the loss of large predators from our ecological community has led to increased numbers of animals further down the food chain. In UK there is a large and increasing deer population, who will happily munch on young saplings, particularly in the winter when other food sources are scarce. Trees up to ten years old are vulnerable to be eaten by browsing wildlife. So in many cases tree guards are a necessity to protect freshly planted saplings.

Tree guards create plastic pollution

Tree guards, also known as tree shelters, are a common and effective method of preventing damage to new saplings, allowing the trees to grow in safety and become properly established woodland. Historically the problem with tree guards has been that they are made from plastic, which as we all know, doesn’t biodegrade and is not environmentally friendly. However, very recently, non-plastic alternatives have become commercially available.

How do we protect saplings?

Whenever possible we still avoid using tree guards. We mostly deer fence our planting areas, ensuring this is done in a way to maintain access for the public, and we also have deer management plans in place. However, tree guards are still sometimes required to protect our freshly planted saplings from deer damage, and therefore we are currently testing a selection of biodegradable tree guards. 

Researching biodegradable tree guards

On our central Scotland site at Dumyat, we are trialling Vigilis-Bio Biodegradable Tree Shelters from Suregreen. They are made of a special blend of bio-based derivatives from potatoes, wood and corn, and a custom biodegradable polymer. After a minimum of five years the Vigilis-Bio tree shelter is designed to start to break up, and as soon as particles and small fragments fall to the ground, where they come into contact with the soil, they will act as a food source for soil bacteria and micro-organisms, eventually being absorbed harmlessly into the natural environment. ​

Wool-based tree shelters

We are also trialling NexGen wool-based tree shelters which are made from a mix of British wool, a polyol made from ethically sourced cashew nutshell liquid and castor oil, and an innovative custom polymer. NexGen shelters are 100% biodegradable, and pH and ecotoxicity neutral. They break down into CO2, H2O and nitrogen, creating a nourishing micro-environment to feed the soil and support the ecosystem, and they also support mosses and lichens that attach themselves to the shelters to help create and sustain biodiversity.

Our vision

We know that the nature on our sites encompass not just trees, but a whole host of plants, fungi, animals and microorganisms. Each decision we make in planning takes into account the wider impact to the site’s living inhabitants. We are on a mission to protect our saplings in the most ecologically friendly and holistic way possible.

What you can do

Gift somebody special a tree today. Your tree will contribute to the growth and preservation of our UK forests. Support forest restoration and help preserve our forest ecosystems here in the UK. This gift of a tree will have a big impact on improving nature and restoring UK woodland.

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