Hedgerows – overlooked climate heroes


Celebrating a campaign win, Rupert Hardy, Chair of North Dorset CPRE, says the government are finally planting 45,000 miles of hedges by 2050

Dorset’s hedgerow-woven landscape from Bulbarrow Hill, looking across the Blackmore Vale
Image: Laura Hitchcock

In recent years we have written extensively about the importance of hedgerows in both offsetting climate change through carbon sequestration, and improving biodiversity. I can report back that CPRE’s campaigning has had considerable success. Our campaigning started way back in the 1970s with a call for legislation to support hedgerow retention, management and protection. More recently we welcomed the government’s Committee on Climate Change Report in 2019, 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. CPRE therefore set out to promote this instead, proposing a target of 40 per cent by 2050, with the campaign called #40by50.

Volunteers planting a hedge in Dorset. Image: Ian Duckworth

How far we’ve come
We then worked with Farmers Weekly last year to engage with farmers who wanted to be involved in our hedgerow management survey, receiving more than 1,100 responses. The results of the survey are found in our report “Farming and hedgerows: stretching the boundaries” and were launched in the House of Lords last December.
Key findings were that 86 per cent of farmers say that hedgerows are important to them, while 70 per cent of respondents cited the lack of funding as the biggest obstacle to planting and maintaining hedgerows. There was overwhelming support for a new government target of 40 per cent more hedgerows by 2050.
We followed this up with a hedgerow petition, which called on the government to commit to planting thousands of miles of hedges across the country, and this reached over 49,000 signatures at the end of 2022. This January the government finally announced plans to create or restore 45,000 miles of hedgerow by 2050, and committed to almost doubling payment rates for new hedges – but these are still modest. In recognition, our hedgerow campaign was awarded first prize in the Animals and Environment category at the 2023 Charity Awards. Hurrah!

Waiting on ELMS
The Environmental Land Management Scheme – ELMS – sounds a mouthful and is also proving difficult to design and administer. It promises farmers public money for public goods, and is the post-Brexit farming payments programme. But since late 2022 they have been under review – in particular farmers are looking for better guidance, as well as more generous payments, on hedgerows, which DEFRA promises soon.

Great Big Dorset Hedge Project
Hedgerows have been a defining attribute of the pastoral landscape of the Blackmore Vale – remembered as the ‘Vale of the Little Dairies’ in Thomas Hardy’s books. With its irregular patchwork of small fields divided by ancient hedgerows, there is lots to do right here and elsewhere in Dorset.
More than two years ago CPRE initiated the Hedgerow Heroes Project with the aim of reinstating at least 15km of hedgerows. Dorset CPRE was also involved with CPRE Hampshire in the planting of 1.7 km of new hedgerow and 1.3 km of existing hedgerow on the Hinton Admiral estate. Our more recent focus has been on the Great Big Dorset Hedge (GBDH) project, conceived by Dorset Climate Action Network and involving CPRE volunteers, which has caught a lot of media attention.
The key driving force behind GBDH has been John Calder, a farmer near Charmouth who has designed hedgerow surveys on the major trails that traverse our county, especially the Jubilee and the Wessex Ridgeway Trails.
The mission has now become the restoration and extension of hedgerows the length and breadth of Dorset.
Volunteers are trained up on the public trails and are then invited to do ‘across farm’ surveys on individual private farms. Many farmers are unaware of the state of their hedgerows – or how best to restore them.
In the first year 150 volunteers have been involved, and of these 90 have done three or more surveys. So far 120km of public trail hedgerows have been surveyed and 80 km of ‘across farm’ ones, but mostly in West Dorset. Data collected is added to a geographic information system (GIS) to help identify hedges already surveyed and highlight opportunities for rejuvenation or planting. Impressive – but there is still a long way to go, especially elsewhere in Dorset.
The survey volunteers are there but John needs more help administering and mapping the scheme, and he is hopeful that Dorset Council will step in. Dorset CPRE has just received £5,000 from the Hedgerow Heroes Funder in recognition of the ambition and potential of the GBDH project.

The view of the iconic landscape from the Dorsetshire Gap
Image: Laura Hitchcock

What You Can Do to Help:
Join other GBDH volunteers on future surveys – visit www.dorsetcan.org/hedge/.
Plant a new hedgerow in your own garden if space allows. Plant trees too, of course, but hedgerows provide higher rates of carbon sequestration and are better for biodiversity.
Let existing hedges grow wider and taller, and restrain urges to trim them regularly! Hedges should not be cut every year, as flower buds often form on second-year growth. Think of all those small mammals and birds you will be helping.
For advice on hedgerow management for wildlife, see this guide from The Wildlife Trusts.
John likes George Eustace’s quote “Hedgerows are the most important ecological building block in the farmed landscape”. Perhaps above all, just remember that!


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