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Soil carbon sequestration potential of planting hedgerows in agricultural landscapes

Journal of Environmental Management

Abstract

Realising the carbon (C) sequestration capacity of agricultural soils is needed to reach Paris Climate Agreement goals; thus, quantifying hedgerow planting potential to offset anthropogenic CO2 emissions is crucial for accurate climate mitigation modelling. Although being a widespread habitat in England and throughout Europe, the potential of hedgerows to contribute to net-zero targets is unclear. This is the first study to quantify the soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration rate associated with planting hedgerows. We derived SOC stocks beneath hedgerows based on two estimation methods to assess differences from adjacent intensively managed grassland fields and how these may be affected by sampling depth and hedgerow age, as well as the SOC estimation method used. Twenty-six hedgerows on five dairy farms in Cumbria, England, were classified based on the time since their planting. We measured SOC stocks in 10 cm depth intervals in the top 50 cm of soil beneath hedgerows and in adjacent grassland fields. SOC beneath hedgerows was on average 31.3% higher than in the fields, 3.3% for 2–4 year old hedgerows, 14.4% for 10 year old, 45.2% for 37 year old, and 57.2% for older ones. We show that SOC sequestration rate beneath 37 year old hedgerows was 1.48 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 in the top 50 cm of soil. If England reaches its goal of a 40% increase in hedgerow length, 6.3 Tg CO2 will be stored in the soil over 40 years, annually offsetting 4.7%–6.4% of present-day agricultural CO2 emissions. However, the current rate of planting funded by agri-environment schemes, which today reaches only 0.02% of emissions, is too slow. Private-sector payments for ecosystem services initiatives (e.g., ‘Milk Plan’) show much higher rates of planting and are needed alongside agri-environment schemes to ensure hedgerow planting contributes to net-zero targets.

Author(s): Biffi, S; Chapman, P; Grayson, R; Ziv, G.

Journal: Journal of Environmental Management

Year: 2021

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