Hedgerows could play a big role in carbon storage in the UK

Robert Stockdill

Robert Stockdill

Hedgerows have been used to protect crops or denote boundaries for 5000 years or more. But in the UK, where they remain prolific today, they are set to play an important role in carbon capture. 

The British government has just announced a grant of £81,561 (US$113,000) to help fund a scheme developed by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) at a demonstration farm that aims to unlock the environmental potential of hedgerows. 

Hedgerows soak up carbon at twice the rate of woodland because of their three-dimensional structure and England’s hedges already store 9 million tonnes of carbon. The plan now is to develop a Hedgerow Carbon Code which will encourage hedgerow habitat improvements and provide a tool to calculate the carbon capture potential of hedgerows. 

The demonstration farm where the Hedgerow Carbon Code will be developed is The Allerton Project which combines commercial farming, research, demonstration and community engagement on a 320-hectare estate in Leicestershire, in the UK. The Project researches the impact of various farming methods on wildlife and the environment, with the results shared through advisory and educational activities.

“Developing a Hedgerow Carbon Code has huge national potential to enable farmers to increase the amount of carbon stored in their hedgerows and to trade those carbon credits,” said Dr Alastair Leake, director of The Allerton Project.

“Applied across a national scale, there is scope to deliver more than £60 million of income to the farming community through carbon credits for hedgerow management and planting.”

The hedgerow project hopes to prove that incentivising farmers, landowners and councils to maximise the potential of hedges will help in ways much more than just carbon storage. Well-positioned hedges can reduce surface run-off, improve water quality, remove harmful air pollution, provide flood mitigation and support more than 600 different plants, 1500 insects, 65 birds and 20 species of mammals.

The idea behind creating a Hedgerow Carbon Code is to provide a quality-assurance standard for hedgerows and generate independently verified hedgerow carbon credits. Companies looking to offset their carbon footprint can then safely invest in accredited hedgerows, benefiting the environment, the rural community and giving their customers confidence they are offsetting their carbon footprint.  

The code will include a tool that will enable the carbon stored in a hedge to be calculated and verified, incentivising land managers to plant and manage hedgerows – an important part of the government’s new Sustainable Farming Incentive. The tool will also have the potential to be developed further to monitor hedgerow biodiversity for calculating biodiversity credits.

“This award from the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund means our team at the Allerton Project, who are experienced in developing nature-based solutions, can push ahead with this innovative project,” said Leake.

While planting hedgerows might sound like a simple way to offset carbon, there is a lot more science to the solution than simply planting trees. 

Leake says the size, structure and management regime all influence the amount of carbon stored in hedgerows. Carbon also builds up on the soil surface through hedge leaf-litter and is drawn down and stored in the soil by earthworms. The project team will create a matrix to enable land managers to calculate the contribution each hedge makes to carbon storage and submit their carbon potential for verification under the code.

Latest estimates show there is more than 400,000 km of managed hedgerows in England – 100 times the length of the country’s motorway system. A  further 145,000 km of hedges and tree lines have fallen into disrepair and could potentially be revitalised. 

Increasing the height and width of England’s existing hedges has the potential to boost the existing carbon storage capacity, just as planting new ones would.

Robert Stockdill

Robert Stockdill

Robert Stockdill is a content writer with more than 30 years of experience in five countries. His style has built upon award-winning success in news and features in the print media to leadership in digital communication, spanning news websites, social media, magazines, brochures, and contributing to books. Recognising the devastating impact of consumer behaviour on the planet and wanting to help make a difference Robert launched Viable.Earth as a platform to celebrate positive contributions by brands, companies and individuals towards reducing environmental impact and improve sustainability – especially in the fields of fashion, beauty, food, lifestyle, and transportation.