Corridors of power: how hedgerows can help us tackle the climate crisis

Despite such a myriad of advantages, hedges have actually had a difficult time in the postwar countryside, with farmers motivated to rip them out in pursuit of increasing production, wanting larger fields to accommodate ever-larger machinery, or, more just recently, suffering through disregard. A hedge left to its own devices eventually changes into a (much less beneficial) line of trees; one flailed with thoughtless regularity each year loses its structure, becoming gappy, therefore failing in its primary duty as a stock-proof barrier. Around a half of the nations hedgerows have been lost in the past century.

If thats not enough, he includes, standing by one of his treasured messy hedges, which is alive with birdsong and buzzing on an early summer morning, theres another reason. “Hedges are simply bloody fantastic,” he says.

Much more, particularly in the west of England, date back to the middle ages, explains Devon farmer and hedge expert Rob Wolton, explaining of his farmhouse window. “That landscape is much the exact same as it was 600 years ago. Were taking a look at history, in the lines of the hedges.”

Efforts such as Close the Gap, led by the Tree Council, is supplying funding and support to, actually, plug the gaps in existing hedges with new planting. Theres even a Healthy Hedgerow app, to help time-pressed farmers do a quick study to spot where their hedges need some help.

Hedging our best.

Close your eyes and believe of England. Of the English countryside, to be precise. Opportunities are, you picture a variety of green fields, interwoven with lines of hedges. Which would be no surprise. They have been a specifying function of the landscape for hundreds– sometimes, thousands– of years. Our really oldest hedges are, as naturalist Oliver Rackham described them, “woodland ghosts”: direct pieces of the initial wildwood, left as field borders when neolithic and bronze age farmers initially cleared the land.

Lots of more, especially in the west of England, date back to the middle ages, discusses Devon farmer and hedge specialist Rob Wolton, pointing out of his farmhouse window. And hedges shop and sequester carbon– putting them in the literal frontline of our quote to tackle the climate crisis.

Current decades have seen them very first safeguarded by law, and then by various incentives for farmers to preserve them better.

The UKs very first National Hedgerow Week, held in late May/early June, motivated the public to get included too, by finding out to like their regional hedgerows. It included ideas for individuals on everything from planting and caring for their own hedges, to foraging without disturbing nesting birds or depriving wildlife of a food source, to lobbying regional authorities to protect ancient hedges and valuable trees.

Such suggestions are starting to drive policy. Cash-pressed farmers will be motivated to create new hedges, and improve their management of existing ones, under the brand-new Environmental Land Management Scheme, which will change a number of the existing agricultural support payments in coming years.

Hedges are a sanctuary for wildlife consisting of dormice, hedgehogs and an entire array of birds. Image: Hans Veth

Theyre highways of biodiversity and important carbon stores. Climate professionals are among those looking for services in the UKs hedges

And it was here that Wolton chose, a couple of years back, to count the wild species he could find in and along with the hedge. Limiting himself to those he could see with the naked eye, assisted by local entomologists and insect traps, his final tally was simply over 2,000. A quite outstanding total for a single hedge, varying from the minute and perhaps ordinary (various parasitic wasps) to such threatened gems as dormice and hedgehogs, together with lizards, toads, lawn snakes and a whole selection of birds, from blackcaps to bullfinches, thrushes to dunnocks.

Main image: Annie Spratt.

New tools such as tree shears, along with the tractor-mounted flail, can be sensitively used to keep every hedge healthy. Every hedge is various, he states, and requires different management. His Devon Hedge Group helps to spread such knowledge, along with useful suggestions, around the county.

More extensively, says Gimber, there are indications that “the tide is turning”. The look for net no has spurred interest in the simple hedges role as a carbon sink. The Climate Change Committee (the nationwide advisory body on the issue) is suggesting a 40 per cent boost in hedgerows: an extra 200,000 km– comparable to half the UKs road network. And if that sounds ambitious enough, the federal governments environmental advisor, Natural England, goes even more, suggesting an increase of over 60 per cent.

Cash-pressed UK farmers will soon be motivated to develop new hedges. Image: Mario Mendez.

Current research validates what our farming forebears had actually understood for centuries: hedges hold a huge shop of advantages. Megan Gimber, crucial environments officer at the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species and self-confessed “enormous hedge fan”, ticks them off. And hedges store and sequester carbon– putting them in the literal frontline of our bid to take on the climate crisis.

The Climate Change Committee recommends a 40 percent increase in hedgerows. Image: George Hiles.

Simply how rich, Wolton discusses as he leads me down the lane to reveal off “simply a regular Devon hedge”. Regardless of such a variety of benefits, hedges have had a tough time in the postwar countryside, with farmers encouraged to rip them out in pursuit of maximising production, wanting larger fields to accommodate ever-larger machinery, or, more recently, suffering through overlook. A hedge left to its own devices eventually changes into a (much less helpful) line of trees; one flailed with senseless consistency each year loses its structure, ending up being gappy, and so stopping working in its primary task as a stock-proof barrier.

They can also be a rich reserve of wildlife. Simply how rich, Wolton explains as he leads me down the lane to show off “just a normal Devon hedge”. Like all effectively managed hedges, its twisted and thick and none too tidy. Cut every couple of years, its skirts ripple out into the field in a selection of brambles. A few mature trees erupt from the top. It is, in short, magnificent however messy.

Put all this together and, as Wolton states, “this is a great time for hedges”. Take some of the most important challenges facing the countryside, and certainly, the world as a whole– the climate crisis, soil erosion, insect armageddon and larger biodiversity loss– and hedges belong to the service.

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