Plastic grows on trees

Georgia Oakenfold, who did a Kickstart placement with the Trust, explains why we use tree guards and considers the problems they cause for our environment.

At The Aire Rivers Trust, one of our main winter activities is tree planting. Over the 2022/23 winter planting season (1st November – 30th April) we managed to plant 3635 whips! Whips are baby trees, typically they are around 2-3 years old and under 1 metre tall. We choose to put tree guards on our newly planted trees to protect them from animals that might eat them and from harmful chemical sprays. The guards also act like a mini greenhouse; this gives the trees a nice environment to grow in and their tall, narrow design means that the trees reach up through them for the light which encourages them to grow.

tree guards tree planting
On exposed sites tree guards help protect young saplings from the weather and grazing by deer or small mammals.

Tree guards were invented in 1979 and since then, almost all of them have been made from plastic. Unfortunately, plastic is not an environmentally friendly material; the average water bottle takes about 450 years to decompose, meaning that for hundreds of years, plastic builds up in places like landfills, on the streets, or in our rivers. In 2019, Greenpeace did a study of 13 UK rivers and found plastic in all of them! They stated that this is the case because once plastic gets into a river, it is almost impossible to completely remove it all, especially if they are microplastics.

Here in the UK, 12% of our land is covered by forests. This is a much smaller percentage than the likes of Germany who have 32% of their land covered by forests, so the UK need to be planting a lot more trees. One of the things we can do to help raise the number is to ensure the survival of the whips that we plant, and using guards is a way of doing this. Trees are essential for life on Earth; they release oxygen which humans and thousands of other beings on Earth need to survive. Trees also create habitat for wildlife, food for birds and other animals, and help protect against flooding because they catch some of the rainwater flowing into rivers and other bodies of water which lowers the chances of them overflowing.

85% of trees that are planted with guards around them survive, compared to 50% of trees that are planted without a guard. On top of this, if the tree guard is kept on for 5 years, about 99% of trees survive! In recent years, deer and grey squirrel populations have increased and both animals will eat parts of a baby tree or even the whole thing. Trees have less natural protection now because a lot of them are planted in towns and cities where there aren’t many spikey thorn bushes etc to keep animals away from them. In towns and cities, they are also more likely to be damaged by humans.

Inevitably some tree guards by rivers will get washed away. Are they the wrong product because they are in the wrong place?

We are currently looking into what we can do about this issue. We want to protect the trees to help them survive but we also want to make sure everything we do is as environmentally friendly as possible, and that would mean using an alternative to plastic tree guards. Have you seen any products or methods you'd like to see used in the Aire valley?

Exploring Bingley North Bog

Where is Bingley North Bog?

Bingley North Bog is a West Yorkshire wetland located in between the A650 and the impressive Five Rise Locks landmark. According to The Canal and Rivers Trust, the bog was formed around 10,000 years ago as a result of a glacier that covered much of Airedale forming a moraine; a moraine is a collection of sediment that has been deposited downhill by a glacier. Vegetation (plants) in the waterlogged area began to both partially decay and partially preserve, creating the peatland we see at North Bog today. Peat looks a lot like soil but can only be found in the wet, acidic conditions of bogs!

A view out over North Bog

What is special about North Bog?

Bingley North Bog is a particularly important site for many reasons, one of which being its role against climate change. Peatlands are incredible at taking carbon from the air and storing it. Peatlands cover around 3% of the world’s land, yet they store double the amount of carbon as all of the world’s forests by trapping the carbon that living plants had captured from the air. It is because of this that Tim Christopherson from the UN Environment Programme considers them the most essential environment on Earth, in terms of fighting climate change. If North Bog were to degrade and become an unhealthy bog, it could release its stored carbon, and in turn, accelerate global warming.

What does a healthy bog look like?

Bogs in good condition like North Bog, are wet and covered in vegetation. The mix of plants commonly found in bogs creates a ‘rough’ surface which slows the flow of water to towns and villages downhill when it rains. As it is a wetland, Bingley North Bog also helps prevent flooding of communities. Instead of flooding the town and villages, overflow can happen at the bog because there is plenty of space and vegetation that can use the water! This means that North Bog is an essential part of flood prevention in the area. Follow the link to watch a video produced by Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust with further information on this: Natural Flood Management - Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust (


Bingley North Bog is home to a diverse group of wildlife including dragonflies, damselflies, frogs, toads, insects, bugs and bats to name a few. The Canal and Rivers Trust have identified mallards, herons, white geese, coots, moorhens and kingfishers as birds you might spot around the bog. On top of this, Shaun Radcliffe of Bradford Ornithological Group has spotted blackcaps, chiff-chaffs and reed buntings in the area as well.

Species Profile: Kingfisher

  • Orange breast with an electric blue back
  • Feed on small fish, crayfish, dragonfly larvae and newts
  • High-pitched whistling call
  • Most often found in small rivers but are found around most bodies of water
  • They have been spotted on our volunteer days at Bingley North Bog

What can people do at Bingley North Bog?

Look out for the wildlife, it’s not every day you get to see the wildlife that can be found at North Bog! Try the Bingley five rise locks and canal family walk and keep an eye out for all the wildlife mentioned above. The loop will take you from town past the 5 locks, 3 locks, North Bog, along the canal and back to town again so there is plenty of opportunities to spot some wildlife. There is also a geocaching search set up by the Canal and Rivers Trust that explains aspects of North Bog that create a great habitat for all of the wildlife there. This is a great idea for a family day out!

Volunteer with us!

Every week we organise volunteer days where we run a variety of events such as hedge laying, tree planting and litter picking. Anyone and everyone is encouraged to join in and help us protect the river Aire and surrounding areas. If you want to volunteer with us, register your interest here: