As the Irish Government introduces its target of cutting national emissions by 51% by 2030 – including a target of 22-30% in agriculture – we really need to look at hedgerows.
According to recent research published in the UK by CPRE The Countryside Charity, and conducted by the Organic Research Centre there is significant potential to contribute to the improvement of carbon sequestration. Sequestration – trapping and storing carbon – is a key component in the climate change battle. Carbon is captured in the growing process, and when not harvested, or burned this reduced the quantum of carbon escaping into the atmosphere.
According to CPRE’s research the average British hedgerow – a close cousin of Irish hedgerows – can contain between 32.2 and 42 tonnes of carbon per hectare. That is based on hedges maintained with flails – and therefore kept to circa 2 metres wide.
Extending the width to up to 3.5 metres, and allowing hedges to grow taller could lead to double the existing carbon sequestration.
This positive outcome is also reflected in the CarboHedge research project at the Thuenen Institute – a research institute under the Germany Ministry of Food and Agriculture. That research is investigating how much carbon is sequestered in the soil and biomass of hedgerows, and so far demonstrates similar findings to the CPRE commissioned research.
What does this mean? It signposts the way to recognising the amount of carbon sequestration potential in existing – and new hedgerows. Given the prevalence of Irish hedgerows, it it clear that his provides a valuable current store for carbon. However, this also highlights the importance of proper management and care of this vital natural resources, as well as an awareness that this opens up new potential revenue sources for landowners with hedges – via some form of carbon credit trading mechanisms.