Tree planting - what are the benefits of planting trees?

Mitigating climate change, providing windbreaks and reducing the risk of soil erosion are some of the best reasons for planting trees, says Sally Drury.

Tree planting: accessories enhance survival rates and protect plants from nibblers - image: Green-tech
Tree planting: accessories enhance survival rates and protect plants from nibblers - image: Green-tech

Trees, why plant them? And why plant so many that they become a copse or even a woodland? I can recall, many years ago, a well-known television gardener discussing tree planting and suggesting that "no matter how small your garden, you should always put a quarter of an acre aside for woodland". At the time, I laughed so much at the thought of having even a spare square yard that I missed the reasons this celebrity gave for planting trees.

Centuries ago the answer would have been simple: to build ships — Trafalgar and all that — to build houses, to make furniture, for firewood and as cover for hunting. Later, trees were needed to provide pit props in the coal mines and telegraph posts to connect one part of the country with another.

Today’s reasons are many and more complex. Yes, we still need commercial forestry to produce timber for buildings and for furniture, and it is argued that, of course, home-grown timber is best. There remains a need for timber as fuel too, with the ever-increasing interest in biomass, wood burners and log stoves.

Positive financial benefits can be gained from growing your own wood fuel on land that might otherwise be unproductive.

We also need timber for fencing and making boundaries — and then there are the matters of providing biodiversity, offsetting carbon, cleaning the atmosphere of pollutants, providing oxygen, calming the wind, offering shade and shelter, clothing scarred landscapes, boosting crop production through agroforestry, not to mention opportunities for sport, leisure and well-being.

Mitigating climate change, providing windbreaks, reducing the risk of flooding and preventing soil erosion are seen as valid if not urgent reasons for planting trees. Research at the Universities of Birmingham and Southampton has shown the potentially beneficial effects of strategically positioned woodland plantations in controlling flood water impact on cities.

This riparian planting, using species such as willows, alder, ash and hazel, can help manage water flow while roots stabilise the banks. Fish can benefit from invertebrates dropping into the water while the dappled shade keeps weeds in check and regulates temperature. Leaves and woody debris are decomposed in the water by micro-organisms and invertebrates, providing a further source of food for fish. On top of all this, buffer zones of trees alongside a watercourse can help to control nitrate run-off, with the trees absorbing fertilisers and stabilising the river bank.

Tube mesh Shelterguard

Time to get planting

But it is interesting to note that these benefits identified by Birmingham and Southampton only achieve maximum effectiveness when the trees reach 25 years, so it is time to get planting now.

It is surprising how easy it can be to find that quarter of an acre to set aside for woodland, but there is no point in planting trees if they are not going to survive. Essential aspects of success are choosing the right trees for the site, best planting practices and aftercare. Tree-planting accessories can enhance survival rates. While whips and small stock planted for woodland and forestry purposes may not require staking, guards and shelters are needed to provide shelter and to protect plants from nibblers and browsers as well as from mechanical damage and herbicide drift. Analyse the threats and match the product accordingly — 1.8m for red deer, 1.5m for fallow deer, 1.2m for roe deer, 75cm to provide protection from hares, 60cm against rabbits and just 20cm if the only threat is mice and voles.

Shelters, such as those from Tubex and the Fortetub supplied by East Riding Horticulture, can protect the newly planted stock from herbicide drift, making it easier to maintain a competition-free 50-100cm around the tree as it establishes. But perhaps the biggest advantage of shelters is that they provide the additional benefit of creating a microclimate around the young tree, helping the tree to grow faster, straighter and with stronger root systems. They also allow for the planting of smaller, cheaper stock.

Tubex’s shelter line-up includes the standard range, designed to last a minimum of five years. For bigger subjects there is the Standard Plus. It has a wider diameter, giving more space for larger species to grow.

The Tubex Combitube is also designed to last five years but is targeted at exposed sites and provides a solid base for improved establishment while the upper section is ventilated, allowing the tree to acclimatise before emerging from the shelter.

The most recent development is the Ventex, a five-year shelter with specially sized and positioned ventilation holes to improve growing conditions by modifying the traditional tree shelter balance of CO2, air humidity and light. The holes mean Ventex should not be used where weed control is by herbicides.

Lincolnshire-based tree grower British Hardwood Tree Nursery (BHTN) is one of the UK’s leading tree and hedging suppliers, producing more than one million bare-root trees, shrubs and hedgerow plants for farmers, landowners and forestry companies across the UK. Beyond the bare-root season, BHTN offers cell-grown varieties to ensure customers can continue to manage planting regimes throughout the year.

As a leading Tubex distributor, BHTN also supplies a full range of tree shelters, guards, meshes, wraps and shields to forestry and landscaping markets.

"Tubex is the UK’s leading producer of tree shelters to enhance growth of young plants and protect plants from bark-stripping and browsing animals," says BHTN business manager Nick Hooper. "Their tubes and shelters, guards and meshes are widely used by estate managers, farmers and landscapers to promote the successful establishment of young trees and shrubs."

Image: Green-tech

Ease of transportation

Interestingly, Hooper has noticed strong demand for lay flat and cut pieces within the Treeguard and Shelterguard collection of products. "The benefits to these products are that while they still offer the same level of protection and the well documented increased growth rates, they are considerably easier to transport into woodland and farmland alike, and allow the customer to dramatically improve their time in motion," he says. "They are not necessarily cheaper, but you save on transport and you can carry a lot more and quickly."

Shelterguards are Tubex’s most popular mesh shelter and comprise a fine polythene film welded to 12mm square mesh to provide reliable plant protection, enhance growth and blend into the natural environment.

They are designed to last a minimum of seven years but the polythene film starts to degrade after about three growing seasons, so gradually exposing the tree to the outside environment. Treeguard provides plant protection but without the microclimate and is used on windy sites or for conifers or species that require plenty of air moment.

Tubex also manufactures the Ecostart — an economic solution to providing three years of protection from stripping and browsing animals — Shrubshelters for wider-diameter plants and Easywraps capable of expanding as the whip grows.

Creating a microclimate is the Fortetub tree shelter from East Riding Horticulture Limited, a twin-walled shelter available as standard 60cm to 75cm for hare protection and a larger 1.2m for deer protection. The double layer creates a microclimate for the plant and a bevelled top avoids plant damage caused by windburn.

The availability of guards and shelters to nurture young stock gives planting a fighting chance against the adversities of nature. It is worth noting that while shelters are an added expenditure, the accelerated growth resulting from their use means smaller, cheaper stock can be used safe in the knowledge that they will soon catch up with unsheltered plantings. 

New woodland commissioned

Forest Enterprise Scotland, the Government agency responsible for managing Scotland’s National Forest estate, has commissioned the establishment of 279ha of woodland in the Kilpatrick Hills just nine miles from the centre of Glasgow. Winning contractor Highfield Forestry is working on behalf of Forest Enterprise Scotland to oversee and manage what is intended to be a vast productive broadleaf plantation.

Highland Forestry, based in Perth, currently manages around 10,000ha of woodland throughout the UK. Work commenced in summer 2016, with phase one seeing deer fences installed and trees planted on Kilpatrick Braes.

So far, landscaper supplier Green-tech has supplied 9,000 Tubex tree shelters and 80,000 spirals. The main tree planting work is scheduled to take place over three phases across three years with foundation works being completed in spring 2019. In excess of 763,150 new trees will be planted over the project’s life.

The planting will follow detailed forest design plans that have been through consultation with the public and interested parties. The design includes productive broadleaves and conifer species, along with many areas of native woodland and open ground. New forests will benefit from the biodiversity and landscape of the surrounding areas and will, in time, provide opportunities for recreation.

Key suppliers

Suppliers of tree guards and shelters include:

Alba Trees 01620 825058
Amenity Land Solutions 01952 641949
British Hardwood Tree Nursery 01673 818443
Cheviot Trees 01289 386755
English Woodlands Burrow Nursery 01435 862992
Farm Forestry Co 01588 650496
Green-tech 01423 332100
East Riding Horticulture Limited 01904 608 157
Tildenet 0117 966 9684
Trees Please 01434 633049
Tubex Part of Fiberweb Geosynthetics Group 01621 874201
Tudor Environmental 02476 856846
Tyne Moulds & Machinery Co 0191 239 4953


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