Increasing the hedgerow network in the British countryside by 40 per cent could create 25,000 jobs in the UK, according to new research.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has found that as much as £3.92 is generated for the wider economy with every £1 invested in hedgerows, with extra jobs in planting and maintenance in both rural and urban areas.
Hedgerows, which are one of the UK’s most easily-encountered wildlife habitats, can be found lining roads, railways and footpaths, bordering fields and gardens and on the coast.
Commenting on the research, the CPRE’s chief executive Crispin Truman said that it was “almost impossible” to define the true value of the UK’s hedgerow network.
“Just as our arteries and veins supply our bodies with nutrients and oxygen, the UK's hedgerow network defines many of our rural landscapes and must remain healthy to benefit villages, towns and cities,” Mr Truman said.
“Our research shows that investing in our hedgerows is a win-win for climate and people in both the countryside and urban areas.
“Sadly, half of our precious hedgerows have been ripped from the landscape since the Second World War and we've seen a huge decline in nature and soaring carbon emissions.”
He added that the charity was calling for ministers to set a target of increasing the network by 40 per cent by 2050, with improved protection for existing hedgerows.
This would represent a “bold step” in tackling the climate crisis, as the network plays a role in soaking up carbon and protecting against flooding, Mr Truman said.
Hedgerows are important for the UK’s landscape as they provide a habitat for wildlife and also connect other habitats - for example, by allowing dormice to travel from one patch of woodland to another.
One in nine of all vulnerable species in the UK are associated with the network, including the hedgehog and hazel dormouse.
They also play a vital role in providing forage and shelter for crop pollinators and predators of crop pests.
“We have the opportunity to transform the way the countryside looks and sounds, which includes more hedgerows, as well as improving the ones we have already,” Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England, commented on the findings.
“We are working to ensure that the new farming policy makes the best possible contribution toward the creation of the Nature Recovery Network that is set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan and hedgerows are very much a part of that.
“These wonderful features create natural corridors, provide essential habitats for wildlife, catch and store carbon and bring benefits for the rural economy.”
When asked about the research, a spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs noted that hedgerows were “an important ecological building block in our landscapes”.
“Our landmark plans for a renewed agricultural sector will enable us to reward the work farmers do to manage every metre of hedgerows on their holdings sustainably and in a way that is right for their area,” they said.
Additional reporting by PA