A plastic free future…

November 3, 2021

Thanks to support from the European Outdoor Conservation Association, our 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.

Project Officer Mike Appleton talks about the success of the project to date and plans for the future.

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.

Our 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 looked at the existing plastic tubes in the Dales landscape and how to remove them for recycling.

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

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.

If one person collected these tubes it would taken them more than 56 weeks to complete!

More than 180 volunteers have taken part in the project too – 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.

The project has also helped to define waste transfer policy regionally – and set a benchmark for the establishment of nationwide collection points.


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.

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, we planted 8,665 trees last winter, with each site having up to six different types of plastic tree guards. We’ve also planted completely plastic free at one of our woodlands. 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. We are also feeding into Forest Research’s national trial which will begin this winter.


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.

We are a founder member of the Forestry Plastic 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 we have worked with Friends of the Dales and the Countryside Landowners Association.

Next steps…

This winter we will plant 3,100 trees without plastic tubes, trial new alternatives. and put 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.

We 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 us a line here.