Image: Tree guard removal lead by Nicola at Buttons Ramsey, Martin Rogers

Back in 2020 you might remember us telling you about a project started by Senior Ranger Nicola to remove the tree guards from our older Community Woodlands. Although the project has only being going for 2 years, we've made a lot of progress so far…

On the 4th of October Nicola lead a volunteer tree guard removal session at our Buttons Ramsey site, which sits between Kempston and Wootton and is part of Gateway Woods. The group of twelve was a mix of our regular dedicated volunteers and a visiting corporate group, and together they completed the removal of guards on ¾ of the hectare they were working on - a huge achievement!

Talking about their morning spent volunteering, Heidi from Willmott Dixon said “Thank you for a great morning with the volunteering activity. We would love to come back with the rest of the team to do other activities.”

Image: Tree guard removal volunteers at Buttons Ramsey, Martin Rogers

Why are tree guards needed?

When we plant new areas of woodland the young trees need protection from harsh weather conditions and grazing animals. In our experience the best way to do this is to use tree guards that help them grow upright and shelter the sapling until it is strong enough to survive.

As the trees grow and become strong enough to thrive on their own, they outgrow the guard which then often splits and falls to the ground. If trees are splitting out of their tree guards or if the guards are restricting the growth of the tree in any way, then they need to be removed. Tree guard removal activities are only organised for Autumn/winter times so as not to disturb the bird nesting season earlier in the year.

Looking for a greener solution

Tree guards are historically made from plastic, so a more sustainable way to support young trees has been on at the forefront of our minds for some time.

We are constantly working to make our tree planting activities as environmentally friendly as possible, researching new methods and ways to recycle what we can no longer use. In 2020 after much research, we found a company who could take our waste guards and recycle them, saving them from going to landfill. After a session of removing the guards, they are bought back to the Forest Centre and compacted into bails and sent to be recycled.

At the time that our older woodlands were planted there was no alternative to plastic guards but going forward either recyclable or biodegradable tree guards will be used on our upcoming planting sites to reduce the environmental impact of our new Community Woodlands.

Image: Tree guard removal process, Martin Rogers

Our progress so far…

With the help of volunteers, we have removed over 15,000 tree guards so far, and 268 hours of volunteer work has gone into the project over the last 3 years!

This is a great start, but with over 2 million trees planted since we started creating the Forest, we still have a lot more to remove.

Talking about the plans for tree guard removal ging forward Nicola, Senior Ranger, said: “The plan is to just keep going! Tree guards need to be on for about 15 years to support saplings, so on new sites like Queens Wood in Ampthill this will happen in many years’ time. This project will be ongoing until new biodegradable tree guards are proven to provide the right support and ready to be used.”

To get involved with our next tree guard removal session make sure to sign up to our newsletter for updates!

We would like to say a tremendous thank you to all those volunteers who took part in the sessions, and visitors who asked questions and wanted to know more about the work we were doing when running into us on sites!

Image: Tree guards ready to be recycled or disposed of at Buttons Ramsey, Martin Rogers

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