Hedgerows – are they our overlooked climate heroes?

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Hedgerows have inexplicably been left out of the climate change action plan, says Rupert Hardy, chairman of North Dorset CPRE

A view of Dorset’s hedgerows from Ibberton Hill. Image: Rupert Hardy

Last year we wrote about the importance of hedgerows in offsetting climate change (The BV, Aug 21). We welcomed the government’s 2019 Committee on Climate Change report, which called for a 40 per cent extension of the UK’s hedgerows. Sadly the government did little to implement this in its 2021 action plan, which aimed to restore and enhance trees and woodland, but inexplicably left hedgerows out. CPRE therefore set out to promote this instead, proposing a target of 40 per cent by 2050, with the campaign called #40by50.
We commissioned the Organic Research Centre to provide an overview of the impact on nature, climate and the economy – and they suggested that for every £1 spent on hedgerows, a return of up to £4 can be expected from ecosystem and economic activities such as biodiversity enhancement, carbon sequestration and woodchip production for biofuel. Planting hedgerows on arable land can boost yield by ten per cent and reduce artificial pest control by 30 per cent. This is all rather ironic when you consider how many hundreds of miles of hedgerows were grubbed up in the post-war period to supposedly to improve agricultural efficiency! Healthy hedgerows teem with life and more then ten per cent of the UK’s priority species are associated with hedgerows, including dormice and hedgehogs. There is huge potential to increase the carbon sequestration of hedgerows, if they are allowed to become wider and taller. They also improve air quality and can reduce soil erosion and flooding.

Volunteers planting a hedge in Dorset. Image: Ian Duckworth

Hedgerow Heroes
The CPRE has worked with Farmers Weekly to engage with farmers who want to be involved in our hedgerow management survey and has received no less than 1,100 responses, which we are analysing now. There will be a parliamentary reception in December to launch the results of our farmers’ survey. Dorset CPRE has also been involved in a project to plant or restore more than 15 kilometres of hedge across the county, including the planting of over 50,000 trees.
On the Hinton Admiral Estate straddling the Dorset/ Hampshire border, this has involved the planting of 1.7 kilometres of new hedgerow and improving a further 1.3 kilometres of existing hedgerow to create a better habitat for wildlife.
We are asking parliamentarians to sign up to become Hedgerow Heroes and to call on the Secretary of State to make a firm commitment to our 40 per cent target. Fifty five have signed up to our campaign – but sadly they do not yet include any Dorset MPs. Our fellow campaigners, Dorset Climate Action Network, want to facilitate hedgerow restoration through their Great Big Dorset Hedge (GBDH) Survey project. Dorset CPRE members are helping with this too.
John Calder, who has a farm in Charmouth, is helping to start that journey by designing the hedgerow surveys on the major trails that traverse our county – the Jubilee Trail, Stour Valley Way and Brit Valley Way among others. Hopefully this will start a conversation in every parish they visit. The aim is to bring together volunteers and/or contractors with landowners who want to have their hedgerows assessed, then restored or extended.

Hedgerows in Toller Porcorum
In September various volunteers, including those from Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) and Dorset CPRE, made their observations on nearly a mile of the Jubilee Trail to the west of the DWT’s Kingcombe Centre in West Dorset. They looked at what species are in a hedge, found one English Elm tree, and used the Adams Condition Code infographics sheet to determine the distinct stages of the life cycle of a hedgerow. Almost every hedge surveyed had an interesting story to tell but they found a particularly wonderful old pathway in Mount Pleasant Lane. It was far too important historically and complex structurally to fit tidily into the streamlined hedgerow assessment process that has been developed for the GBDH project. It is worth so much more than that, so they added a sheet especially on it.
Hopefully data collected will be added later to a Quantum GIS database so everything can be recorded in one place and then used in mapping software such as Dorset Explorer. This will help to identify the hedges that have already been surveyed and sections that may need additional planting. If you would like to join John and other volunteers on future surveys, or find out more about the GBDH project, please visit www.dorsetcan.org/hedge.html.

Hedgerows in North Dorset
In 2000, our future CPRE president, Bill Bryson, wrote: ‘For well over a thousand years hedgerows have been a defining attribute of rural England, the stitching that holds the fabric of the countryside together. From a distance they give the landscape form and distinction. Up close they give it life, filling fields and byways with birdsong and darting insects and the furtive rustles of rodents … Hedgerows don’t merely enhance the countryside. They make it.’
Nowhere is this more true than in the pastoral landscape of North Dorset, with the added realisation of the key role hedgerows can play in halting biodiversity decline and tackling climate change. Thomas Hardy’s “Vale of the Little Dairies”, the Blackmore Vale, is characterised by its irregular patchwork of small fields divided by ancient hedgerows. Some are Bronze Age or Neolithic in origin. They may have been boundaries then, but now we need them for other reasons.
Please consider planting a new hedgerow as well as more trees. They are vital for our own survival.

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