Huge campaign win as government sets hedgerow targets

‘Hedgerows are a key opportunity to encourage farmers to engage with the government’s flagship environmental land management schemes' (pic Julie Davies)

We’re celebrating a big step forward for nature and climate as the government has finally announced an ambitious target to create or restore 30,000 miles of hedgerows by 2037, and 45,000 miles of hedgerows by 2050, under the new Environmental Improvement Plan 2023.
In a landmark decision for hedgerows, meeting the target goes some way to restoring the UK’s hedgerow network. And it puts farmers at the heart of plans to reconnect and re-establish the country’s largest nature reserve.
Commenting on the government’s announcement, Tom Fyans, of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “This new hedgerow target is a step forward by the government and shows that the penny has finally dropped when it comes to the potential of hedgerows to tackle the climate and nature crises.
“We’ve been calling for a clear target to expand our hedgerow network for years nationally and locally and it’s fantastic that the government is now taking this forward.”
CPRE has been campaigning for a target to restore hedgerows by 40 per cent by 2050 for two years. The target was recommended by the independent Climate Change Committee and is equivalent to about 120,000 miles in Britain – halfway to the moon! We need a 40 per cent increase by 2050 at the latest. This requires adding more than 4,000 miles of new and restored hedgerows per year, starting now.
Following the launch of our Hedge Fund report, CPRE put hedgerows at the heart of its campaigns. In December last year we launched the farming and hedgerow report that found more than 80 per cent of farmers are keen to expand their hedgerows.
Communities and the CPRE network have been key to the campaign’s success. CPRE local groups across England worked closely with local NGOs and farmers to raise awareness of hedgerows and the potential to ‘plant up’ and restore degraded hedges. Lobbying efforts also paid off, with 82 parliamentarians signing up as ‘Hedgerow Heroes’ – committing to champion the need for a hedgerow target in Parliament.
Twelve local CPRE groups have been planting hedgerows across England, with five kicking off the project last winter, and a further seven have engaged with their local community and planted or restored miles of hedgerows over the past few months.
CPRE’s hedgerow petition – which called on the government to commit to planting thousands of miles of hedges across the country – reached more than 49,000 signatures at the end of 2022, culminating in a hand-in outside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that saw the department’s director of natural environment, trees and landscapes personally come out to receive the petition.
Hedgerows have been a defining feature of the countryside for more than 1,000 years. They bring landscapes to life with beauty and character and provide tangible signs of the changing seasons while giving a strong sense of continuity. Hedgerows provide a wealth of benefits: forage, shelter and shade for livestock; habitat for pollinators and pest predators; connecting habitats, shelter and food for wildlife; and protection for soil and carbon absorption.
But despite decades of interventions, many hedgerows are still in a degraded state, largely because of a lack of management. Planting rates under agri-environment schemes are too low and slow to reverse the hedgerow losses of the last century.
Mr Fyans warned: “Plans on paper are worth nothing if they are not accompanied by concerted action. We welcome the government’s target of expanding the hedgerow network, but the commitment will be worth little unless there are firm policies to make it a reality.
“The time to start planting new hedgerows and improving those we have is now. To hit net zero, concerted action is needed to plant and restore hedgerows, in both the wider countryside and in urban areas.
“Hedgerows are a key opportunity to encourage farmers to engage with the government’s flagship environmental land management schemes. We know from our own farmers’ survey that over 80 per cent of farmers are keen to support the expansion of their hedgerows.”