Nurturing Australia’s unique environment

August 1, 2021

Icon Water is an essential service provider. We manage Canberra’s water and sewerage network. Our company's focus is, and always has been, to sustain and enhance the lives of Canberrans. Part of our focus is the protection of Australia’s unique environment. We’re always on the lookout for new initiatives that improve our ability to safeguard this country's natural beauty and diversity. 

Trees are a staple of any forest and Australia has several species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Over time, this unique flora has been threatened by loss of habitat and invasive species. We’ve made the effort to plant native trees at our sites across Canberra, but trees take quite a bit of time to grow. The earliest stages of their development are the most crucial. We need to use tree guards to protect our saplings – but these tools bring their own environmental concerns. 

New recyclable alternative

Tree guards are an excellent way to protect a sapling’s early development. They create a microclimate around the tree that increases humidity, raises carbon dioxide levels, deters predators and offers protection from frost or driving rains. Traditionally, tree covers have been made of plastics derived from petrochemicals. These products, while effective, cannot break down naturally and are difficult to recycle. We realised that a recyclable alternative would lower the environmental footprint of our tree guards. 

In 2010, our Catchment Protection and Land Management team began an extensive trial process. Their objective was to find a 100% renewable product that could protect, and nurture, our young trees as effectively as traditional alternatives. They trialled several tree guards with varying levels of success. One involved a cardboard cover, but this product was found to disintegrate within a year. As a result of these trials, the team has found a viable alternative. We’re proud to announce that we’ve begun installing these environmentally friendly guards across the ACT. 

Black tree guards

These new tree guards, produced by Global Land Repair, are not only 100% recyclable – they're made entirely from recycled plastics. They’re also quite robust, with a failure rate of less than 1%, and do well to resist the elements. This means they don’t break down into micro plastics that can then become caught in the wind and pollute the landscape. All of this works to bring the environmental footprint of our guards down to nearly zero. 

The benefit of these tree guards doesn’t end with sustainability, they’re also excellent at nurturing our saplings. The covers come in two variants: black and red. The black tree guards restrict a plant’s access to light and encourages them to grow vertically quite quickly. This guard also provides warmth during cooler months which increases the total growth period. The red guards increase the amount of red light reaching a tree, which enhances photosynthesis to encourage general growth among plants. 

Red tree guards

Our new tree covers are proof that recycled products can be even more effective than those made from traditional materials. 

Preserving Australia’s environment

These tree guards will play a critical role in our preservation of biodiversity. As part of our bushfire operations plan (BOP) our teams need to take steps to minimise both the likelihood and impact of bushfires near our sites. This involves removing unsuitable trees whenever found. 

An unsuitable tree is, primarily, one that adds to the risk of bushfires by providing elevated fuel loads. However, we also consider a tree’s impact on soil stability. We actively remove any plants which may be contributing to soil erosion. This gives us the opportunity to replace these trees with suitable alternatives that can enrich the area’s biodiversity. 

Our tree covers will allow us to better nurture this new plant life as it progresses through the critical stages of early development. They will protect the saplings from both predators and the elements while encouraging accelerated growth. We’ll be able to bring more trees to maturity faster than ever before.

Before BOP (unsuitable trees)

After BOP (suitable replacements)

We recognise the significance of trees in the continued wellbeing of our environment. Our teams work hard to protect and maintain these natural assets for the benefit of future generations.