Between 1946 and 1997 the length of hedgerow across England has collapsed from c.800,000km to 400,000km resulting in millions of tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere and halving the natural habitat available for wildlife.
Our friends at WildEast recently launched an initiative WildEdges to help accelerate their mission to return 250,000 hectares or 20% of the land in East Anglia to nature. WildEdges calls on landowners to add a modest amount of regenerating scrub and grass buffers to land edges like hedgerows. WildEast has worked out that if all the hedges in their region were increased to an average of 10 metres that would return around 5% or 62,500 hectares to nature building in their words “great cathedrals of biodiversity” which would draw down millions of tonnes of carbon whilst also restoring the soil. The small ask of a few more metres of hedgerows makes a big difference!
The Climate Change Committee (CCC) recommends that the extent of our hedgerow network should be increased by 40% to support the UK government’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. A September 2021 report "Hedge Fund" from CPRE, the countryside charity, working with the independent Organic Research Centre, provide an evidence-based overview of what the impact of 40% more hedgerows would have on nature, the climate and the economy. They found:
By looking at a farm today and comparing it to its distant past we can see all too clearly the impact of the lost hedgerows. We can also see the huge benefit of taking that farm and adopting WildEdges.
This is what one 136-hectare farm looks like today…
A picture of the same farm in 1946 shows that 18km of hedgerow has been lost equivalent to 7 hectares of space for nature.
Removing them also released 250 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.
To replace this lost biodiversity, and recapture the released carbon, this farm could recreate their ‘WildEdges’ by having hedgerows 10 metres wide.
This is what it would look like…
We have supported WildEast with funding that has enabled them to develop with their partners Land App a key tool that lets landowners in the WildEast region can now calculate and visualise what nature and carbon benefits they can achieve by adopting more WildEdges. More on this exciting initiative here.
We see this as an important first step for landowners as they increasingly look to reimagine how they use their land under the ELMS stewardship framework which provides financial incentives for more environmentally friendly land use in accordance with the UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan and commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.
Whilst WildEast’s WildEdges initiative focuses on hedgerows the concept of having messier edges has much broader applications. It is just as important for rivers to have messy edges. In May 2022 we commissioned our friends at Beaver Trust and the award-winning Stop-Motion animator Lauren Cook to make an exciting short film that will highlight the importance of river buffers and why we all need to embrace wilder edges. This will be published in the near future but in the meantime please enjoy the recently released documentary “On The Edge” about making space for rivers. You can watch this on the Beaver Trust website or below.