Case study: biodegradable tree guards

A future with less plastic

Plastic plays a huge part in everyday life, but we all need to look at ways of reducing the amount of plastic we use to mitigate the negative environmental impact it has. It's estimated over 200 million plastic tree guards were used between 1980 and 2020 in the UK and it is not known how many were left in place.

While saplings are maturing, tree guards are an important tool to protect them from foraging animals such as rabbits, deer and even the odd unobservant mower. Without guards many wonderful woodlands would not exist. But they can also damage the tree and wider environment when not removed, causing problems such as tree rot from excessive moisture trapped in the guard, bark damage from guard rubbing and increasing plastic pollution causing a multitude of issues for wildlife. The government has pledged to plant an additional 11 million trees by 2022, so the problems caused by plastic tree guards could become much worse.

Large number of planted saplings. Showing a combination of plastic and biodegradable tree guards.

A large area where many saplings have been planted. Some sections have used plastic tree guards, and the others are using biodegradable tree guards to protect the saplings.

Switching to biodegradable tree guards

The Old Chalk New Downs project is dedicated to reducing the use of unnecessary plastics in our environment. After discussions with tree guard providers and looking at different biodegradable options the project opted for biodegradable cardboards guards.

For the last year Old Chalk New Downs has provided biodegradable tree guards in place of plastic guards to the projects they are supporting. This year the project has funded the planting of over 5,000 trees each protected by a biodegradable cardboard tree guard. The guards are periodically checked by the project team, taking photos, and noting levels of decomposition. Monitoring will continue throughout the project and a full review of the guards will be compiled before the projects end.

Bluebell Hill tree saplings

The first time the project used the guards was in March 2020, protecting over 200 tree saplings planted at Bluebell Hill. Over a year later the guards are still standing, although starting to show signs of decomposition. The hope is they last 2 years as stated in the product specification. This is enough time to allow the saplings time to mature and become more resistant to foraging animals and will show there are viable alternatives to plastic tree guards.

A large number of tree saplings planted on a verge next to a busy road. Saplings have biodegradable tree guards.

Saplings planted on the roadside verge next to Bluebell Hill using biodegradable tree guards.

What you can do

Before planting, decide if you need to use tree guards at all. The Forestry Commission has produced a guide to the use of tree shelters and guards to help you. You should also read our tree planting advice.

If guards are needed look at the different options available. Biodegradable tree guards may not provide sufficient protection in all areas, the more adverse weather, the shorter the life span of the guards.

If plastic tree guards are the only option, then have a plan in place for regular checks and a deadline for the final removal. Once you have removed the guards either save them to be reused or recycle them, following your local councils recycling guidelines.

If you would like further information about the Old Chalk New Downs project or funding opportunities, please visit the OCND website or email