The tree tube problem

8th March 2018

In 2012 we planted 18000 saplings at our Sylvan Nature Reserve near Kirk Hammerton. It has been shown through testing that young trees are much more likely to survive and show stronger growth if they are protected in a tree tube. These tubes are specially designed to insulate the young tree, protecting it from frosts when it is young and tender. They also physically protect the trees from being eaten by rabbits and hares. In some parts of the site, we knew there were roe deer, so we used especially long tubes which would also protect our juicy young trees from being eaten by deer.

Six years later, most of the saplings trees have grown into healthy young trees. Their trunks have burst out of their tubes, and their branches have formed a lovely crown above the top of the tube. They no longer need their tubes.

This poses something of a problem for us! We now have 18000 plastic tree tubes, which have done their job. A proportion of the trees died, or fell over, or were pushed over by flood waters. This is to be expected, and in any woodland planting, losses are anticipated. The tubes from those trees have not split, as the tree trunk inside never grew thick enough to burst out. We have salvaged these tubes for re-use for new  saplings.

However, the majority of the tubes have split, exactly as they are designed to do, meaning they cannot be re-used. We were pondering the problem of what we could do with all these tree tubes, with our ecologist, Graham Jeffery of Ecosurve. One of the projects he works on is a plastic recycling depot, and he had noticed that insects and amphibians seem to enjoy the warmth which develops in discarded plastic left in the sunshine. From that thought, came our ‘tree tube bug habitats’! We piled a number of tubes up in an out-of-the way spot, secured them with a sheet of hessian pegged down at each corner and covered them with twigs and leaves. Graham is sure that they will become valuable habitat for small woodland creatures. We are concerned that in the future, the plastic may break down into fragments which will then find their way into the environment. We will therefore check all the habitats every year or so, and at the first sign of disintegration we will remove the tree tubes and take them to a plastic recycling facility


We look forward to seeing who takes up residence in these designer repurposed homes!