Why National Parks need more hedgerows

  • Contributor information: CNP

3 Aug 2021

Campaign for National Parks has joined CPRE and others in calling on the Government to take urgent action to extend our hedgerows by 40% by 2050 in order to protect nature and tackle the climate crisis.

A hedgerow – dubbed ‘nature’s key worker’ – is a planted line of shrubs that: is over 20 metres long; is less than 5 metres wide; and contains at least 80% native shrubs. More info on gov.uk.

Hedgerows have a key role to play in National Park landscapes, providing shelter for wildlife, reducing soil erosion and improving water and air quality, including with carbon capture. Specific efforts are underway in some National Parks to increase the amount of hedgerows and protect those that already exist, but more investment is needed.

Farmers in Yorkshire Dales National Park have helped to produce a new interactive map showing the location of important habitats. The mapping tool – named ‘Re:Cover’ – is designed to help people looking to protect, expand and connect habitats such as flower-rich hay meadows, wildlife-rich wetlands, ancient woodlands and hedgerows.

Re:Cover has been developed by the National Park Authority in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales Farming and Land Management Forum; farmer Anthony Bradley, who is a member of the forum, tested the map as it was being developed. He has been planting hedges as part of a Countryside Stewardship agreement.

“We had these little bits of beckside woods and some old ancient hedges that were all fragmented,” said the sheep farmer. “Even on our modest-sized place we’ve managed put in 1,300 metres of hedge to try to connect it all. And we’ll go for another five or six hundred metres if we can get the funding. If people know where there are hedges and woods and all the rest of it, you can start to see where you can make links.”

He went on to talk about the biodiversity benefits: “I saw a dragonfly here [by Mearbeck] last summer. I haven’t seen a dragonfly on this beck since I don’t know when. There’s an old hedge that we’ve connected to and, well, there was an enormous flock of long tailed tits in there.”

The Climate Change Committee recommends extending the hedgerow network by 40% by 2050 to help achieve net zero. Ahead of COP26, now is the time for Ministers to show real leadership by committing to this target, while restoring our existing hedgerow network, to deliver a more resilient, beautiful and biodiverse countryside.

“Tree planting and peatland restoration are important parts of the government’s plan to tackle the climate and nature emergencies,” we wrote in an open letter to the Prime Minister, “Yet there is still one powerful solution missing from its strategy: the humble hedgerow.

“Hedgerows are the unsung heroes of our countryside. They are icons of our landscape, steeped in history, providing a haven for wildlife while absorbing carbon emissions. The hedgerow network, in its expanse, is our largest ‘nature reserve’. Shockingly, it is estimated that more than half our hedgerows have been lost since WW2, and many existing hedgerows are in a poor, degraded state.”

Urgent action is needed to address this: add your voice to the campaign by signing the petition today