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Taking the pulse of tree planting season in the UK

9 December 2022

Tree shel

Tree Planting Season in Review 2021-22

A new tree planting season is about to get underway.

With it comes plenty of talking points. A clear need for education. Ambitious government targets. The discussion around biodegradable tree shelters. These are just some of the subjects setting the tone as we head into the 2022-23 planting season.

We review some of the challenges faced by tree planters in the UK over the past year.

Big Targets & Big Troubles

Despite frequent changes in leadership and government direction over the past few months, the initial target of 30,000 hectares of new woodland by 2024 set out in 2019 seemingly still stands.

Unfortunately, however, current planting levels have fallen short of where they need to be to achieve this.

For the 2021 – 22 tree planting season, 10,480 hectares of planting took place in Scotland, 2260 hectares in England, 580 hectares in Wales and 540 hectares in Northern Ireland.

We’ll save you pulling out your calculators. That’s a rough total of 13,860 total hectares of planting across the UK, under half of the annual target for 2024.

So there’s still some way to go!

Tree Planting Season Defined by Challenges

These figures are cause for concern amongst tree planting organisations and a number of issues are thought to be responsible.

Just some of the key issues identified by tree planters are:
• A shortage of skilled labour to help facilitate larger planting projects.
• A lack of education in best practices in planting times and tree choices – leading to many planting schemes failing.
• Lack of clarity and intense debate around land-use, carbon capture, food production and woodland regeneration

There are more issues than these at play, of course.

Tree planting at this kind of scale was always going to present challenges – but understanding where the pain points are is key to overcoming them.

Biodegradable Shelters Rise but Aren’t Magic Solution

A key feature of this past season was the explosive rise in popularity of biodegradable tree shelters, including our very own Tubex Nature, with many new products coming to market.

The increase in biodegradable options has been in response to increasing pressure to move away from plastic.

Whilst the desire to maximise sustainability is completely understandable, we have concerns that biodegradable shelters are seen as a universal solution to plastic use.

To quote our Site Director, Dean Latten, in his recent contribution to Forestry Journal:

“It is tempting to lay all sustainability concerns at the feet of ‘biodegradability’ – as a form of ultimate solution to the tree-shelter ‘end-of-life’ question. But doing this ignores the true complexity of the issue and could ultimately lead to fewer trees being planted and massive raw material inefficiencies.”

Fundamentally, collection and recycling of tree shelters at their end-of-life is the lowest impact solution according to current third-party research. This isn’t surprising when you consider that this represents a circular solution – with used shelters providing high quality recyclable material for use in new shelters or other products.

But biodegradable shelters still have a critical role in sustainable tree protection, for use in isolated locations or where collection and recycling isn’t practical they provide a great solution much needed for many years.

Optimism for the Future

Whilst current planting figures might make for grim reading, this is balanced by a keen understanding amongst both tree planters and policy makers as to the reasons for them.

Tree planting at the scale required to both achieve ‘net zero’ and to reduce the UK’s reliance on imported timber is bound to be fraught with challenges to overcome.

These challenges are now well understood and it’s up to us as foresters, conservationists, manufacturers, local authorities, and civil engineers to work together to find solutions and succeed in our planting efforts.

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