Hedgerows and their importance to the Irish landscape as well as to biodiversity in this country became top of the agenda during Dáil discussions earlier this week on climate action. It also emerged that robust policies will be needed to address many of the issues in this country.

The matter arose after deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton what the process at EU level was to review the total area of hedgerows and non-forest woodland patches across the Irish landscape to be designated as a carbon sink.

Minister Bruton, meanwhile, pointed to the “important feature” that hedgerows and non-forest woodland patches were “because of their roles in biodiversity, agricultural management and potential carbon sequestration”.

In recognition of this, environmental payment schemes have included incentives for hedgerow plantation, maintenance and protection.

The minister continued: “The latest estimates suggest that the hedgerow length in Ireland is over 600,000km. On the basis of the information available at the moment, hedgerows could potentially sequester somewhere in the region of 0.1 MtCO2 to 0.5 MtCO2.

“In order to refine the figures to allow for inclusion in the National GHG Inventory, further remote sensing investigations would be required to create a national detailed inventory of hedgerows.

“Furthermore, hedgerow surveys would be required to refine classifications and identify appropriate sites. Proposals for research along these lines are under consideration in the Environmental Protection Agency in the context of its 2019 research call.”

Plan of action

Minister Bruton went on to say that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removals associated with land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF), as reported in Ireland’s GHG inventory prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency, included activities such as grassland and cropland management under agricultural use.

The definition of cropland – and separately grassland – includes associated hedgerows.

He added: “While LULUCF emissions are not currently accounted for in relation to the calculation of compliance with Ireland’s emissions targets in the period to 2020, from 2021 onwards these emissions will be integrated into the EU framework for compliance with national emissions targets.

“It is, therefore, essential that Ireland has robust policies in place to manage emissions and enhance removals from relevant LULUCF sectoral categories.”