On Guard for Earth Day 2024

Plastic vs. Planet is this year’s EARTHDAY.ORG call to action, a rally cry that calls for a 60% reduction in the production of ALL plastic by 2040 for the sake of human and planetary health.

Annual global plastics production has reached an estimated 400 million metric tons and it is estimated that 75 to 199 million tons of plastic are currently in our oceans.1 The facts, and the plastic, are literally piling up.

So what can a young organisation do?

At The Carbon Community we are doing our best to minimise the use of plastic in our volunteering program and in our kitchen, but the ‘elephants in the forest’ are the tree guards.

We thought long and hard about our tree shelters before the trees were planted in 2021. The first question was whether we needed them, to which the answer was yes as Glandwr Forest is home to many small mammals who would like to take a bite out of a baby tree. The next question was materials, so we looked at the proven alternatives to plastic available at the time.  We needed something robust enough to last five years, that would completely biodegrade in outdoor conditions or could be fully recycled.

After a lot of discussion, advice, and more than a little angst, we decided our only option was to proceed with locally manufactured recycled plastic tree guards and make a big commitment to collect and recycle everything we used.

Give me shelter

Young broadleaf trees need protection from the bunnies, hares and voles that find them a rather tasty treat. This protection is need for roughly five years, until the tree is big enough to survive a nibble.  

And so it begins, in 2024 our trees are starting their fourth season in the ground and although most of them still need protecting, there are a number that are big enough to remove the guards.

In other places our guards are wearing out. This is a particular challenge for the tree shelters in our Carbon Study where each year, we measure 6,400 trees looking at tree height, diameter at 1.3 metres and diameter at base. To do this accurately, we remove the tree guards, and over time, they wear out.

On a crisp April weekend, an amazing crew of Community Science Volunteers joined us to:

  • Remove shelters where the trees are large enough
  • Replace shelters that are worn out
  • Leave the shelters in place that are happily guarding their tree
  • Collect any shelters that have blown off the trees and into the field

It is a mammoth task with 10,800 shelters checked over two days, with an incredible crew of volunteers.

What’s next for the “elephants in the forest”?

The next stop for our shelters that are worn-out is the Tubex Tree Shelter Collection & Recycling Program where they will be washed, shredded and remade into new shelters to stand on guard for trees.

The next leap forward will come from organisations innovating new materials and testing alternatives for tree shelters, and at The Carbon Community, we will be testing them out, watching, cheering and hoping for their success.

When future generations walk amongst the trees being planted today, they should experience a magical walk in the woods without plastic polluting the forest floor.  Until all trees can be planted with a new generation of shelters, what is required is care and attention. Protection for the trees in their early years and the care to remove the shelters when they are no longer needed. Creating a forest is more than planting trees and walking away, it is standing on guard for the future.

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(1) Plastic facts


Tree Council Newsletter, Tree Talk, Tree-guards-part-1-plastic
Tree Council Newsletter, Tree Talk, Tree-guards-part-2-natural-materials

Cover photo credit: Paul Box