The trouble with tree tubes

removing old tree tube

Liberating a tree from its plastic tomb.

Anyone who has ever been involved in a tree planting project knows all about tree tubes. You plant your sapling, wrap it in plastic and cable tie it to a stake. You walk away feeling you have done something positive for the future and helped protect your tree from the nibbling attentions of mice, voles and rabbits.

Fast forward twenty years and, left unattended, that same tree tube has become a menace. Yesterday me and a gang of friends headed to a local woodland planted at the turn of the millennium, no doubt to great fanfare by community volunteers, in order to rescue the trees from the clutches of those tubes.

tree tubes causing rot

rot caused by a tree tube

Tree planting schemes often have no thought or finances set aside for future maintenance and, without maintenance, the tree tubes begin to gather moisture and soil causing the trees entombed inside to rot. Other tubes degrade and break down, leaving plastic fragments littering woodlands and blowing across sites and into rivers. Mature trees can also grow around the tubes until the plastic cuts into the bark and effectively ring barks and kills the tree.

how is this tree tube helping

How is this guard now helping the tree?

In a few hours the team and I had collected about 15 bags of tree tubes. Tubes that were still intact will be taken to a local project which recycles them for use in new schemes but most were beyond re-use. Sadly there are precious few places that will recycle the plastic from the tubes so they are headed for landfill.tree tube haul

While this is far from ideal at least we managed to save about 200 trees and removed plastic litter from a site which is meant to be for wildlife. There are about 10,000 more trees at this site alone which need rescuing.

I am personally tired with waiting for ‘the authorities’ to do something about wildlife issues so I would urge others to do something similar, gather some friends and go liberate some trees.


Balloon releases – Not a cause for celebration.

balloon release litter

Balloons are litter too. Copyright Callum Black

On Friday night my mum and I were down by the Medway River at Motney Hill. We lost my dad recently to Coronavirus and this was the first time we had spent together since the funeral.

As we were enjoying the last of the sun, a large party of people came down to the river, each carrying a helium filled balloon to release across the estuary. There was something about this gathering that made me feel they were also there to remember a loved one recently lost.

I feel a kinship at the moment with anyone who is going through what my family has gone through but I can’t understand how you would choose to celebrate the life of someone by releasing plastic litter into a wildlife sanctuary.

I have fished more of these balloons from remote rivers and untangled them from hedgerows than I care to remember. They are an incredible menace to wildife, the strings entangling themselves around birds and fish and slowly strangling them or severing limbs. The plastic swallowed by unwary chicks and filling their guts until they starve to death.

Balloon releases are banned in Kent on council owned land and so the actions of these people were not only very thoughtless but illegal.

Did I challenge them? No. On this occasion I didn’t. It was not the moment either for them or us to deliver a lesson but clearly more needs to be done to raise awareness of the harm balloons can cause and encourage people to find more positive symbols to celebrate the life of those so many of us have loved and lost.



Costa Coffee. What planet are you on?

pexels-photoCosta Coffee is way behind the times when it comes to the war on plastic. Tonight a friend bought me a hot chocolate to take away from one of their shops. I asked the member of staff to leave the plastic top off as I didn’t want the waste. He told me that I didn’t have the choice. I had to have the plastic top even if I took it off as soon as he handed it to me. It was health and safety policy.

Surely if Costa were serious about reducing public waste they wouldn’t be insisting on giving out plastic to customers who don’t want it. Wouldn’t it be simple to produce a form I could sign absolving them of any legal responsibility for selling me a hot drink? The planet I am on cannot tolerate such wastefulness in the name of petty bureaucracy.

War on Plastic

P1040203Inspired by the BBC One programme, War on Plastic, I took great delight in giving all my single use plastic back to Asda yesterday.

Asda are one of the worst offenders and I don’t often shop there, choosing instead to get my veggies from the farm shop down the road, but not everyone has the luxury of time to do this.

Our supermarkets need to take responsibility for the role they play in creating plastic waste. Listen up Asda. I don’t want recycled plastic or compostable plastic I just don’t want the plastic in the first place. Sell things loose and let me bag them up myself

Please send a similar message to your supermarket and post a picture to #ourplasticfeedback.

What lies beneath.

Thames litter pick 1 pickersYesterday I joined other volunteers on the shore of the Thames by the RSPB Cliffe Pools reserve for a litter pick run by MSEP’s Guardians of The Deep.Project Officer and David Saunders a volunteer with the RSPB. When I worked for the RSPB I ran these litter picks myself so I am no stranger to picking up other people’s rubbish and feeling angered about it but, still I was shocked. It was a crystalline day, the Thames a looking glass, seals were hauled out on the far shore and starlings clattered in the scrub sprouting from the remains of the old explosive works. It was too beautiful to be faced with ugliness.

As I climbed over the sea wall I was greeted by hundreds and hundreds of plastic bottles, caught in eddies and carried to this remote bay on the tide. We all know it’s there. This plastic, floating around our waterways and despoiling the planet but to be suddenly faced with it is a different matter.

Thames litter pick 2 bottles

bottles litter the shore of the Thames

Further up river, crowds of people searched for the Beluga Whale which has been fishing in the Thames.  Some of these beluga people have become devotees, they are sleeping rough in parks, they prowl the river day and night for a glimpse. Humans are so kind to one animal out of place that they will cancel their firework parties for it and not appear to mind. We ARE a kind species. I will not be swayed from this, so how then can we, this kind species, be the same species that throws plastic bottles into the river?

it was all there, the detritus of human existence, toothbrushes, shampoos, flip flops, children’s toys. The source of this has to be river traffic on the Thames, Thrown overboard by sailors on container ships or dropped from private boats.

The volunteers worked hard picking this up, no matter how disgusting, they bagged it and ferried it away. Although our litter is never quite away. Much of this plastic cannot be recycled as it is considered contaminated, therefore it is buried or burnt. Neither option is desirable.

One solution is of course stopping it at source. Reversing our dependence on plastic, going back to paper and wood and things that will not be sitting on a beach in a hundred years time. Why are cotton buds now made of plastic? I remember a time when it wasn’t so. We will never be entirely free of plastic of course, not now, it is a wonder drug and we are all addicted but does it have to be like this? If it can be made to disintegrate then lets make it that way, Now, today.

Thames litter pick 2 micro plastic

micro plastic on the shore of the Thames

Worse even than the plastic bottles was the micro plastic, impossible to sift the tiny fragments from the natural flotsam and jetsam  of the shoreline. Among this debris were millions of nurdles, the basic component which our goods are made from.  These had been washed out of a factory from God knows where. This is the stuff that is being swallowed by fish, which in turn is being swallowed by the beluga which eventually ends up in our own bodies. They lay all over the beach tiny blue and white droplets. I longed for a giant Dyson Vacuum to suck it all up. Come on Mr Dyson, invent it please.

I will not despair, I will not. Among the litter pickers was Tyler, 14 years old. He had more enthusiasm for litter picking than anyone else. He invented a wooden shovel to scoop up the micro beads and bag them. He regaled me with plastic facts. He had downloaded a video of a storm petral with plastic in it’s gut, he told me and shows it to his friends at school.

He is hope and I will be hopeful, still.

Guardians of the Deep will be running litter picks throughout the autumn and winter. Find out more here.