A LESS obvious cause of litter in the Dales is being tackled by a charity and is being regarded as ‘urgent’.

Bruce McLeod, chairman of the Friends of the Dales has illustrated the paradox that a green initiative, in this case, tree planting, has caused an unwanted impact.

Up to one million plastic tree guards are impacting on the environment with the threat of clogging up water courses and littering the ground when they have served their purpose.

Last month a group of litter pickers met in the village of Otterburn intent on beginning to tackle the scourge.

The group was made up of members of Friends of the Dales and Plastic Free Skipton. The event is part of a campaign initiated by the Friends of the Dales to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in the national park.

Over the last 25 years various groups have planted an estimated three million trees within the national park boundaries.

But despite the obvious good these trees are doing, of the three million plastic tree guards placed around them to protect them, about one million are thought to be no longer of use and ready for removal, collection and either reuse or recycling.

Following on from an earlier pick on Philip Metcalfe’s land at Otterburn, the dozen litter pickers over a two hour period in October collected approximately 800 guards from a half a hectare plantation on the farm of Andrew Haggas, also of Otterburn.

“The farmers as well as Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Yorkshire Wildlife and Farming Partnership, who planted most of the trees, have all been very supportive of the campaign to raise awareness about the problem of plastic tree guards,” said Bruce McLeod, chairman of the Friends of the Dales.

He added: “The event was clearly just a drop in the ocean. Actions to collect and reuse or recycle plastic tree guards are important just as finding biodegradable alternatives are key to protecting trees and the environment in the future. And we are pleased that the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust is taking the lead on this.

“However, before thousands and thousands of new trees are planted, Friends of the Dales is urging all organisations responsible for re-forestation to stop using plastic tree guards.

“The litter pick in Otterburn is aimed at raising consciousness about this issue. Plastic tree guards are a product of the petro-chemical industry. Both their production and presence in the Dales landscape is polluting, not to mention an eyesore. Collection and reuse or recycling tree guards is not a solution. At best it is a tidying up measure, at worst an admission of failure; failure to protect the environment.

“It is time to stop using them. Full stop.”

Katie Birks, of Plastic Free Skipton, added: “The tree guard litter pick really opened our eyes to the millions of sturdy plastic wrappers already littering the Dales, many years after they’ve ceased to be useful.

“We’re very excited about the plans to plant millions more trees, but it would be totally bonkers to wrap them individually in plastic. We need to rethink tree guards - and quickly. Biodegradable versions now exist, and there’s also the option in certain areas to avoid tree guards altogether.

“Our litter pick will hopefully help spread the word and get people thinking differently”

Mr McLeod added that the word was spreading as Joel Henderson, estate manager for Skipton Town Council, announcing that from now on Skipton was only going to use biodegradable tree guards.

He added that last week the YDMT sponsored a full day conference hosted by United Bank of Carbon and University of Leeds entitled Plastic Tree Guards: Who Needs Them?

“The Forestry Commission, Wildlife Trust, national park etc were all represented and agreed it is an urgent issue,” Mr McLeod said.

Further tree guard litter picks are planned for the future.