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Planting hedgerows: Biomass carbon sequestration and contribution towards net-zero targets

Abstract

Agroforestry practices, such as hedgerow planting, are widely encouraged for climate change mitigation and there is an urgent need to assess their contribution to national ‘net-zero’ targets. This study examined the impact that planting hedgerows at different rates could make to UK net-zero goals over the next 40 years, with a focus on 2050. We analysed the carbon (C) content of native hedgerow species and determined hedge aboveground biomass (AGB) C stock via destructive sampling of hedges of known ages. AGB C stocks ranged from 8.34 Mg C ha−1 in the youngest hedges, to 40.42 Mg C ha−1 in old ones. Knowing the age of the hedgerows, we calculated their annual average AGB C sequestration rate, which was highest in young hedges (2.09 Mg C ha−1 yr−1), and lowest in 39 year old mature, regularly trimmed hedgerows (0.86 Mg C ha−1 yr−1). We present a time series of the annual AGB C sequestration rate change between hedge age categories, which increases from 2.09 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 in the first 6 years after planting, to 2.26 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 in the next 6 years, and then decreases to 0.43 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 between years 13 and 40. Our results indicate that, if encouraged widely, hedgerow planting can be a valuable tool for atmospheric CO2 capture and storage, contributing towards net-zero targets. However, current planting rates (1778.8 km yr−1) are too low to reach the net-zero goal set by the UK Climate Change Committee of increasing hedgerow length by 40 % by 2050. An increased planting rate of 7148.1 km yr−1 will achieve this goal by 2050, and, over 40 years, store 3.41 Tg CO2 in hedge AGB, or 10.13 Tg CO2 in hedge total biomass and in the soil, annually offsetting 1.5 %–4.5 % of UK annual agricultural CO2 emissions.

Author(s): Sofia Biffi, Pippa J. Champan, Richard P. Grayson, Guy Ziv

Journal: Science of The Total Environment

Year: 2023

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