Hedgerows are the overlooked climate heroes of new government action plans

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By Annie Lloyd
12th August 2021

Back in May, the government announced its new action plans for peat and trees. But CPRE have spotted a hedgerow-shaped hole that leaves opportunities untapped.

Hedgerows must be the most taken-for-granted feature of the English countryside. Many of us simply flash by in cars or buses without really seeing them – unless a section is removed, then we notice the gap.

But for those who truly appreciate the countryside they are central to its appeal. Full of life and interest, they change with the seasons. They are mini worlds of biodiversity between the road or lane and the farmed field beyond.

CPRE have long recognised the value of our hedgerows, peatlands and woodlands. We’re not only passionate about their role as part of our much-loved landscapes – views of dark peat bogs, clusters of ancient trees and hedgerows threading across the tapestry of our countryside together are all iconic sights – but are alive to their value in locking up carbon.

We need these crucial parts of our landscape to give us any hope of tackling climate change. Many of us think of trees as the best around for capturing the carbon dioxide that causes the climate emergency, but that overlooks UK peatlands, for example, which are estimated to be storing 3 billion tonnes of carbon. That’s more than all the forests in the UK, France and Germany combined.

So it’s no surprise that we’re looking enthusiastically to the new government action plans for commitments to look after these crucial elements of our countryside. Our assessment of the plans? Plenty to welcome – but with a hedgerow hiccup.

Hedgerow in spring beauty

 

The problem lies in the way our planning laws relating to hedgerows still reflect policies of the post-war period when maximising crop yields was the priority, and hedgerows were seen as a dispensible hindrance, to arable farmers in particular. Since those days thousands of miles of hedgerows have been uprooted in all parts of the country, a process that is still going on despite changed attitudes which now see hedgerows as a vital aid in the fight against global warming. We’re concerned that the value of hedgerows in capturing carbon and indeed, providing other benefits such as habitats and corridors for wildlife, is neglected in both the NPPF and the Government’s latest plans. A 2019 report from the Committee on Climate Change urged for greater investment in creating new hedgerows to help address the climate emergency, and we welcomed their recommendation for a 40% extension of the current hedge network.

We therefore commissioned a report, ‘Hedge fund: investing in hedgerows for climate, nature and the economy’, and held a launch event for it at the House of Commons recently which was supported by 30 MPs and a gathering of CPRE members from all around the country.

That’s why we’re disappointed not to see a much bigger role for these climate-saving superheroes in the government’s action plans. They should be right up there, alongside trees, as nature and climate heroes. So we’re calling on the government to stop beating around the bush, review the outdated bias in our hedgerow planning laws (which is still leading to annual losses in hedgerows) and increase hedgerow cover by at least 40% by 2050.

By Annie Lloyd