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Removal of the old guard at Trumpington Meadows

Since the 1970s, tree saplings across the country have been planted in translucent plastic tubes to protect them from being eaten by browsing animals.

A Trumpington Meadows work party with Cambridge University Press. Picture: Rebecca Green (53759554)
A Trumpington Meadows work party with Cambridge University Press. Picture: Rebecca Green (53759554)

While protecting the growth of young saplings these plastic guards now present problems – as we all know plastic is a problem; it doesn’t biodegrade and it’s not environmentally friendly, yet was chosen for its longevity and effectiveness when it comes to protecting young trees from damage.

Research has shown that it is preferable to lose a certain percentage of saplings than use plastic guards to protect them - significant carbon emissions come from the manufacture of guards, and they break down into microplastics, polluting the natural environment and harming wildlife.

The Wildlife Trust in Cambridgeshire have been busy removing remaining plastic tree guards which have supported trees from when first planted at Trumpington Meadows. So far around 4,000 guards have been removed this year, with several thousand removed in previous years with roughly another 1,000 to go.

An oak tree guard at Trumpington Meadows is removed. Picture: Rebecca Green (53759575)
An oak tree guard at Trumpington Meadows is removed. Picture: Rebecca Green (53759575)

The trust’s rangers have been helped by a willing team of volunteers, as well as groups from local companies Cambridge University Press and Arm on Wild Work Days, plus students from The Leys school in Cambridge doing their Duke of Edinburgh awards.

After removal each guard – a mix of various types of plastic, mostly polypropylene and polyethelene - is flattened and carefully packed into tonne bags, 10 of which have been filled recently and are being recycled via a company called Tubex (https://tubex.com/recycling/).

Seeking to eradicate the use of plastic in any future planting schemes, along with many other conservation charities and landowners, the trust is seeking sustainable viable alternatives.

An oak tree guard at Trumpington Meadows is removed. Picture: Rebecca Green (53759573)
An oak tree guard at Trumpington Meadows is removed. Picture: Rebecca Green (53759573)

Biodegradable tubes (https://nexgen-ts.com/) are available made from bio-based materials which are compostable without contaminating the soil or leaving toxic residues behind when degraded, and there is also a model made from British wool and oil from cashew-nut shells with a good sustainability rating while establishing a new market for materials currently considered as waste.

Wild Work Days

The trust’s Wild Work Days offer unique team building for companies who want to get involved and make a difference for local wildlife and community spaces, with tasks from helping construct fences, coppicing or hedge laying - there are always plenty of tasks and the trust is keen to hear from companies that would like to get involved.

Visit wildlifebcn.org/get-involved/wild-events-and-experiences/wild-work-days.

Carbon mapping nature reserves

Managing more than 4,000ha of land across more than 100 nature reserves, the trust is looking to understand and calculate how much carbon these nature reserves are currently storing, and where it may be possible to lock up even more carbon in future.

To achieve this, detailed habitats maps of all the reserves are being made, and work is under way to bring together the most up to date habitat information and digitise it using one consistent system.

Initial sums for Cambridgeshire show that about half of the area managed by the Wildlife Trust is grassland and a quarter is woodland. The rest is mostly made up of wet habitats - open water and fen/marsh habitats - and some arable land at the Great Fen, including areas now being used in trials of alternative crops.

Trees are very good at storing carbon, and calculating carbon stored in above-ground biomass (ie carbon within the plants growing on reserves) shows that 25 per cent of tree covered reserves accounts for around 90 per cent of the carbon stored in above-ground biomass.

It’s not yet the whole story and much work will be done to finish mapping the habitats, analysing soil (for example, peat) which has a major part to play in carbon storage, and also weighing up carbon emissions – each habitat is a living system part of a carbon cycle which will emit and take in carbon throughout the year.

Once mapping and initial calculations are done, the trust will better understand the contribution reserves are making to locking up carbon, and look at ways to do it even better.

Wild Workshops

Ever wanted to be introduced to a crane fly? Want to know more about woodlice? Now’s your chance . . . dip into the trust's year round programme of in-depth workshops where experts in their field will help identify anything from vertebrates and invertebrates, species from the botanical world - fungus to plants, habitat management techniques and practical skills such as ecology recordings or charcoal making.

On the 2022 programme, meet butterflies, bumblebees, beetles, dormice, dragonflies, spiders and water bugs and learn woodland birdsong along the way. Say aloha to an amphibians - learn about our seven native amphibians, their life history and habitats, survey and monitoring, and legal problems and health and safety issues associated with surveying.

The trainers are all enthusiastic local naturalists, more than willing to share their vast knowledge with participants, and these thrilling workshops provide unique ways of getting closer to local wildlife and developing natural history skills. www.wildlifebcn.org/get-involved/training-workshops

Read more from the Wildlife Trust

The Wildlife Trust in Cambridgeshire introduces a Young People’s Forum

How Wildlife Trust youth rangers have been aiding Cambridgeshire care home

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