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The countryside’s secret weapon, missing from COP26: the case for hedgerows

Dorset Style Hedgerow taken near Beaminster Dorset Style Hedgerow taken near Beaminster

13th December 2021

Don’t forget the humble hedgerow

Extract from article written by Stuart Neaverson at CPRE

How we feel a crucial climate superhero was overlooked at COP26 – and why we’ll keep pushing for hedgerows.

With the global climate conference, COP26, now growing smaller in the rear-view mirror, and thoughts already turning to COP27 in Egypt in 2022, the implications of what was decided are becoming clearer.

There were certainly positives, not least a sorely-needed (but very much belated) explicit call for the world to move on from fossil fuels, even if the wording was watered down at the last moment. There were also steps forward elsewhere, including in critical areas like limiting methane emissions and tackling deforestation.

Don’t forget the humble hedgerow
The power of nature-based solutions in tackling this crisis was also largely absent from discussions. At CPRE, we’ve long been an advocate of the possibilities they have to offer, not least in one solution that lies just outside our front doors – the humble hedgerow.

'One solution lies just outside our front doors – the humble hedgerow.'
These familiar stewards, some of which have been standing tall for over a thousand years, are the backbone of our countryside. Together, their beautiful shapes and styles form a patchwork of interconnected warrens, superhighways and homes for the wildlife that brings our countryside to life.

But what often goes underappreciated is their climate fighting potential. Like a superhero’s utility belt, our hedgerow helpers have a number of tools at their disposal to grapple with the climate crisis, from directly offsetting our emissions to helping us adapt to the threats unpredictable weather brings.

'Like a superhero’s utility belt, our hedgerow helpers have a number of tools at their disposal to grapple with the climate crisis.'

It’s why a report from the Committee on Climate Change, the independent advisory body to the government, urged investment to be spent on expanding our current hedge network by 40%, and our Hedge Fund report showed what that could bring to our countryside. So what makes hedgerows so great?

Like trees, our hedgerows are giant carbon vaults, criss-crossing the nation and locking up huge amounts of carbon dioxide. This is not just limited to the hedgerow itself, but the soil around them, with one report showing hedges planted on slopes improving the carbon-capturing potential of soil up to 60m away.

In total, this accounts for an enormous 13 million tonnes – enough to offset a quarter of all annual emissions from UK farming, one of the largest greenhouse gas contributing sectors in the country.

'They can slot into our landscape in places not suited to a whole wood.'

But unlike trees, hedgerows also possess some nifty tricks that set them apart – not least in slotting into parts of our landscape not suited to a whole wood (especially into farmland, which makes up 60% of all UK land). In urban environments, they can also help to tackle air pollution by forming a barrier between pedestrians and roads, helping to filter out nasty and harmful chemicals.

Nature’s allies
As the nation’s largest nature reserve, hedgerows are critical to the flourishing of nature and the species that make it special. They act as corridors for wildlife to travel along, connecting habitats up and helping species to thrive, with over 1,500 insects, 600 plants, 65 birds and 20 mammals which depend on our hedgerows.

'The climate crisis is also a nature crisis, and our wildlife is on the frontlines.'
But the climate crisis is also a nature crisis, and our wildlife is on the frontlines, with more than a quarter of Britain’s wildlife threatened by rising temperatures. 130 of the UK’s most vulnerable species, including the beloved dormouse and hedgehog, are closely associated with our hedgerows which in many cases form their last safe refugee.

It’s simple really; by expanding our hedgerows, we can revitalise our natural world.

Read the complete article written by Stuart Neaverson at CPRE


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