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13 October 2021

Hedgerows & Climate Change

Written by Published in Environment

Increasing hedgerow cover across the UK can create new homes for wildlife, improve the quality of the soil, boost the UK economy, and help in the global fight against climate change

Yesterday, my article Agroforestry: The Future of UK Sustainable Farming was published in the International Business Times. Throughout the piece, I discussed the importance of agroforestry practices both in the UK and abroad. Highlighting the ways these practices help our environment while improving the productivity and profitability of the land, it is clear that biodiversity and environmental conservation against climate change go hand in hand.

As Ewhurst Park embarks on the next phase of its forest garden, I thought it would be fitting to continue to explore the relationship between farming and biodiversity. Particularly, I wanted to focus on another simple land management practice that can greatly benefit our environment: hedgerows!

Hedgerows, also known as hedges, are a historic land management practice. Initially used to mark boundaries between neighbouring pieces of land, hedgerows are currently also used to form barriers or for aesthetic purposes. They typically consist of shrubs but can sometimes include trees as well.

But beyond looking pretty or fencing off a piece of land, what else do hedgerows do?

First, they provide a habitat for wildlife across the UK! In fact, hedgerows are one of the most easily encountered wildlife habitats, according to Wildlife Trusts. One of their most popular inhabitants is the European hedgehog. As the name suggests, these animals heavily rely upon hedgerows, whether it is for protection or food. Other creatures that are crucial to our local and national ecosystem, such as roosting birds and harvest mice, live in hedgerows as well. With over 130 wildlife species listed as habitants of hedgerows according to the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan, hedgerows greatly benefit our ecosystem.

HedgerowsClimateChangePhoto by Annie Spratt

Beyond providing a home for different wildlife, hedgerows improve the quality of the soil. Since hedgerows are a natural barrier, they protect the soil from droughts, flooding, and water run-off, all of which degrades the quality and quantity of the soil as it erodes or becomes infertile. Healthy, nutritious soil is crucial not only for the growth and maintenance of the plants but also for our environment, as fertile soil can absorb more CO2, thus decreasing the number of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Additionally, the leafy, woody plants included in hedgerows are known for capturing large amounts of CO2.

The UK countryside used to be covered in hedgerows. However, since the Second World War, there has been a dramatic decrease in hedgerows, with 50% of all UK hedgerows destroyed. This is due to the introduction of industrial farming, which has cleared green spaces, such as hedgerows, for massive farming machines. Currently, there are just over 450 thousand kilometres of hedgerows left in the entire UK!

This is not nearly enough.

Other farmers, educators, and leaders in sustainable farming development have come to the same conclusion. Advocating for the increase in hedgerows across the UK, these individuals along with the Climate Change Committee propose that the UK government should increase its number of hedgerows by 40% by 2050.

Beyond improving the biodiversity and environment of the UK, this goal has economic advantages as well. A recent study done by The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), also commonly known as The Countryside Charity, has found that expanding hedgerow cover will create 25 thousand new jobs across the UK over 30 years. Further, for every £1 invested in hedgerow development, the CPRE predicts £3.92 will be generated for the UK economy.

Thus, hedgerows are a crucial part of green development across the UK as they will assist our environment and economy!

Acknowledging these benefits of hedgerows, dozens are currently planted across Ewhurst Park. Crucial to our agroforestry and forest gardening initiatives, these hedges expand kilometre after kilometre, contributing greatly to our local ecosystem.

As we expand Ewhurst Park, entering new phases of development and innovation, hedgerows will continue to be at the forefront of our initiatives.  Further, we will educate others on the importance of hedgerows, whether it is during their visit to Ewhurst Park or while reading my weekly posts. Together, we can return hedgerows across the UK to their former glory, improving our biodiversity, environment, and economy.

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