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Could the humble ‘fedge’ replace plastic tree guards in the future?

A willow 'fedge' at Bats Wood, at the back of Leven High School.
Leven High School teacher, Duncan Zuill, is Chair of Bat’s Wood explains how the project began and what has happened to make them aware that plastic tree guards have not been effective for them and what a fedge is.

Leven High School teacher, Duncan Zuill, is Chair of Bat’s Wood, a volunteer-run charity with the aim of making the most of spare land behind Levenmouth Academy, in Buckhaven, Fife. Its aims are growing and building in sustainable ways. He explains how the project began and what has happened to make them aware that plastic tree guards have not been effective for them and what a fedge is.

A willow 'fedge' at Bats Wood, at the back of Leven High School.

The Bats Wood project began in 2016 when an area of the potential woodland was ploughed and planted with grass and areas of clover then in 2017 the woodland began to take shape as 5000 native trees, with plastic tree guards and wooden stakes were planted. 

However, over 80% of the trees died due to poor soils, vandalism and deer over-grazing. Volunteers did not give up and instead planted another 4000 trees, gradually replacing the lost trees but due to over-grazing and vandalism tree death continued. 
To protect  the trees they decided to try willow fencing, as part of Creative Carbon Scotland: Fife Climate Beacon for COP26 project. Willow artwork was installed alongside a willow plantation and a willow ‘fedge’. 
Willow ‘fedge’ is a living willow fence-hedge which can be ornamental. This was used to line the paths and as a carbon-capturing community artwork to promote outdoor walking and create “cues of care” for the environment. 
Unfortunately in April 2022 deer ate the willow plantation completely but amazingly the willow fedge was left intact and still growing well!
In March 2022 the group attracted a NatureScot / TCV grant to plant a ‘Wee Forest’, 50 metres from Bat’s Wood and in November 2022 they presented “Rewilding for a Healthier School” at Learning Places Scotland, Glasgow SEC where they were awarded Highly Commended: “Innovation in the Development of a Sustainable Learning Space.”   And in January 2023,  as part of a Volunteering Matters and Climate Action Fife Project, a second installation of fedge path liners was created  and a video was made to illustrate the work Creating Habitats with Willow

As a result of the trials and tribulations the group Duncan Zuill, said they learnt that:

(1) Fedge structures do not attract vandalism – they don’t burn or break easily. 
(2) Fedge structure can resist deer damage and self-repair. This is because the design protects against trunk ringing where bark is removed right round the trunk killing the tree. 
(3) Fedge provides a supply of new willow bolts for further fedge installations and repairs. 

And he feels that fedge can protect small forest plantations from roe deer sustainably – without the use of plastic and wooden stakes.  So in January 2024  the when they gained funds from Climate Beacon,  Volunteering Matters and Climate Action Fife they installed a third fedge. 
“This time a fedge will protect a Wee Forest sized plantation of Woodland Trust trees with a ring of fedge which will be vandal-proof and deer-proof. We have prepared the soil with compost in ditches dug by hand in autumn. We are confident that this structure will grow and work to some extent, ” said Duncan.
A YouTube video is to be released in May 2024: “Becoming Wolves in Bat’s Wood”. Keep an eye on their website to find out more:

Next the group plan to create “Willow Worlds”, four new ‘Wee Forest’ sized areas to challenge deer behaviour without excluding them. By extending the project, the plan is to grow trees in the presence of deer without plastic tree guards, protecting saplings with the affordances of living willow fedge. 

Finally the group want to spread the word that fedge could be the future. They have applied to the Royal Society of Edinburgh to further explore the use of planting willow fedge to replace the use of tree guards in some contexts and to produce some evidence and data about how it works.
The hope is that in the future tree planting could be ‘plastic-free’ through the provision of alternative methods such as biodegradable tree guards and willow fedge barrier planting.

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Where you have come from before: Before joining the Fife Climate Hub team I had two jobs I was the Sustainable Transport Officer for Transition University St Andrews and I worked as a Communications Advisor for Fife Council

I am a passionate communicator with a big interest in climate and biodiversity. I began this journey when I was asked to cover the GM Crop Trials in the Highlands as a young reporter for the Press & Journal. I realised that I wanted to be part of the solution and not on the sidelines reporting it.  

One small change I would recommend getting the train for your next holiday. It’s a fantastic adventure and once you get out of the UK the trains are much more relaxed and you feel on holiday straight away. On the Eurostar on to Paris even the toasties are served with a plate, a napkin and a French accent! 

Where you have come from before: Before joining the Fife Climate Hub team I worked within corporate learning and development. This is my first foray into the third sector!

Within my last role I designed and delivered learning interventions, many of which was in the area of sustainability. I have also in the past worked in communications and change management. In the last year I was a climate champion with Greener Kirkcaldy where I met many of the new people I now engage with on a regular basis.

One small change that I keep trying to make and would encourage others to make for a lower carbon Fife, is to think both big and small! The small changes (all the Rs!) add up, whether that be refusing to buy non-recyclable products, always remembering to take my reusable mug or water bottle everywhere, or repurposing that wooden pallet to build a flower bed – it all adds up towards reducing our carbon footprint.

Where you have come from before: I’ve always worked in the voluntary sector, most recently on a freelance basis supporting charities with their digital content and online accessibility. Before that I worked at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Multiple Sclerosis Trust.

My professional background is in digital communications and data reporting. I’m also a Board Member on the Kingsbarns Community Development Trust and help to run our school and community garden in the village.

One small change is to get growing. Whether it’s looking after a few herbs in pots on your windowsill or getting involved in one of the many brilliant community gardens we have here in Fife, growing your own fruit and veg reduces food miles, pesticides and plastics and saves you money too. Plus, homegrown definitely does taste better!

Where you have come from before: Before joining the Fife Climate Hub

Craig Leitch Fife Climate Hub Manager
Craig Leitch Fife Climate Hub Manager

team I worked for Greener Kirkcaldy and on the Climate Action Fife Project. My role was to deliver climate literacy training and inspire climate action. I also supported FCCAN as their secretariat.

My background is in wildlife conservation where I mainly worked to share the joys of nature with people as a ranger, leading guided walks and as education officer.  

One small change is to talk to people about climate change. Share your worries and celebrate your positive actions. You really do have power to influence those around you.  

Alternatively: buy (and sell)  second hand. There are so many apps out there now to help with this. This means fewer emissions, fewer things going to landfill and it saves you money.