The Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT)’s mission is to support small farms to be competitive and profitable, all while positively benefiting the local environment and community.

Hedgerows will help the climate and biodiversity crises

Hedgerows are a crucial part of any farm that is seeking to maximise its yield while protecting nature. The CRT is proud to be supporting the campaign calling on the Government to commit to planting thousands of miles of hedges, led by CPRE The countryside charity.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC), who advises the UK Government on meeting their legal obligation of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, published a report in 2018 in which they estimated that the current length of hedgerows in the UK is around 120,000 hectares. The CCC is calling for an increase from 30% to 40% by 2050, citing numerous benefits such as carbon sequestration, improved farmland biodiversity and shelter for grazing livestock.

When the CRT’s Lark Rise Farm in Cambridgeshire was first acquired in 1993, CRT Trustee, farmer and conservationist Tim Scott planted additional hedgerows to create smaller fields and to provide havens for local wildlife. Regular surveys over the past 20 years or so have evidenced the positive impact of these hedgerows, with bird species such as yellowhammers becoming more abundant on the farm.

The difference between a good and a bad hedge

As described by the hedgerow campaign, they create habitats and provide sustenance, while also protecting the soil, cleaning the air and absorbing carbon emissions. However, it is essential that any new hedgerows are planted and managed in a way that is sensitive to the existing wildlife.

Before a hedgerow is planted, it is important that the surrounding area is surveyed. Hedgerows are wildlife corridors, but this means that predators will take advantage of their shelter to cross fields and hunt. As an example, a new hedge may lead to increased predation by foxes of ground-nesting birds such as lapwings.

Similarly, an assessment of the existing area will help guide the species of tree and bush that should be planted. Tall trees provide ideal homes for birds that predate smaller birds’ eggs and young, like magpies and carrion crows. However, in other circumstances, tall trees and large hedgerows will be optimum.

The way in which our new hedgerows are managed will determine their effectiveness in terms of tackling climate change and reversing the decline in British biodiversity. Some farmers will trim their hedges once a year. However, cutting off the new growth hampers their potential for storing carbon. A trimmed hedge will neither produce the berries nor flowers that insects and birds need. A trimmed hedge also reduces the available hiding spots for hedgehogs.

Traditional hedge laying has been used on some of the CRT farms, creating much denser hedges which are then left to grow for many years such that they produce a wide base and thick growth with abundant flowers and fruit. Hedges which are only cut like this once every ten years are much richer in wildlife.

The CRT is pleased to have signed the CPRE’s petition calling on the Government to champion hedgerows but urge all who take up this challenge to think about the quality as well as the quantity of hedges which make up such a wonderful component of our countryside. For more information about the campaign, click here.