Hedges discussed in Climate Change Committee Report
Hedgelink welcomes the proposal by government scientists that extending hedges by 40% is one of the key changes needed to reach net-zero carbon by 2050.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC) advocates increasing hedgerows alongside other methods of carbon capture in its May 2019 report, Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming.
The last hedgerow survey, in 2007, recorded 500,000km of hedgerow in the UK. Extending this by 40% would require the creation of 200,000km of new hedges across rural and urban landscapes – which equates to about half the length of Britain’s road network.
The report notes that this “is not assumed in scenarios that achieve current targets”, so it is excellent that hedgerow benefits have finally been recognised in such an ambitious way.
Hedges sequester carbon both in woody growth above ground and in roots, leaf litter and other soil organic matter at and below ground level. In addition, hedges across slopes capture eroding soil and can increase soil organic carbon for up to 60m uphill. In contrast to some of the other forms of carbon capture proposed in the report, hedges are a low-risk way of capturing carbon and provide multiple benefits.
The CCC report also explains that an increase in hedges “results in benefits to biodiversity through habitat creation […]and can help towards flood alleviation”. Hedges regulate air and water quality through intercepting pollutants, maintain essential diversity, and are already an important cultural landscape feature.
This is not to say that there is no room for innovation. Further research is needed if we are to optimise the creation of 200,000 km of “climate hedges”, so that they are biologically diverse, include hedgerow trees (which will also increase long-term carbon capture capabilities), and are able to provide vital connectivity through an increasingly hostile agricultural and urban environment.
Hedgelink embraces the proposal of 40% increase and welcomes further discussions on the issue. We recommend that everyone with the capacity to promote planting and seeding of hedges through urban and rural landscapes should commence or continue with the urgency that the climate change emergency requires.