A study to quantify the climate mitigation and adaptation potential of hedgrows is to be commissioned by the Government in 2021.
It will follow the completion of an extended survey of hedgerows by local authorities as part of the climate action plan. The move follows a growing view that hedgerows could possibly represent a significant carbon sink and could potentially be used as a mitigation option.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, speaking in the Dáil during a debate on tree felling, said hedgerows are an important landscape feature that have been supported by various agri-environment schemes over the years.
The department had facilitated the planting of around 11,000km of hedgerows and the rejuvenation of 6,000 more under successive agri-environment schemes.
Mr Creed said there is an increasing awareness in society and in public bodies of the requirement to do the right thing by the environment. “Broadly speaking, I have found local authorities to be aware of tree management in urban settings. Sometimes the awareness is not communicated in terms of the rationale behind some of the interventions they make,” he said.
Independent TD Tommy Broughan said it is unbelievable that there is not even a rough estimation of the extent of the hedgerow cover, although 600,000km has been suggested.
“Hedgerows could potentially sequester between one tenth and half of a megatonne of CO2, which could make a very significant contribution towards our overall mitigation figures in respect of agriculture in general,” he said.
Mr Broughan said clearly the country should have very ambitious targets in forestry and in building up the number of urban trees.
“I understand London has a target of planting a million trees in the next couple of years. All our urban areas, including Dublin, Cork and Waterford, should have similar targets to help the national effort and to mitigate carbon in the general area of agriculture,” he said.
Mr Creed said the climate action plan recognises the key role afforestation has to play in climate-change mitigation particularly through carbon sequestration.
Under current rules agreed as part of the EU effort sharing regulation, forestry can contribute 2.1 million tonnes of CO2 per annum of carbon towards Ireland’s emissions targets under the next climate mitigation period 2021-2030.
The climate action plan now sets an average of 8,000 hectares of planting average a year. While this will mostly yield benefits in the longer term post-2030, it will also contribute to the country’s 2030 target through carbon sequestration.
“My department has approved an average of 9,000 hectares for new planting each year for the last three years. This means there are almost 10,000 approved and shovel-ready hectares available to the forestry sector that could be planted today,” he said.