How the lowly ditch could help save our planet

For years, environmentalists have warned of the damage wrought on nesting birds and habitats from the destruction of the country’s rural hedgerows and woodlands. And now scientists say the lowly ditch could even be critical to the survival of the planet.

New research shows hedgerow and woodlands in Ireland could make a significant contribution to reducing the amount of carbon in the Irish environment.

Dr Kevin Black of Forest Environmental Research and Services Ltd has found that hedgerows and wooded areas are a “small but significant carbon store.

“Better management of hedgerows may contribute further to the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. LiDAR and other high-tech remote sensing technologies can enable us to quantify this in a cost-effective manner,” he said.

Using this technology, Dr Black and scientists from Teagasc and Treemetrics have been able to amass enormous detail about the structure of individual hedgerows, allowing them to draw a “precise image” of the plants that make up an individual hedge. This physical data was then used to calculate how much carbon the structure can absorb.

EPA Head of Climate Change Research, Dr Frank McGovern said: “This research is relevant .... [because] it quantifies one of the key ecosystem services of hedgerows in taking up carbon dioxide and storing it as biomass.

“Remote sensing technologies are emerging as a powerful tool for environmental monitoring.”

Hedgerows are estimated to cover about 4% of the Irish landscape.

The Rural Environment Protection Scheme facilitated the planting of 10,000km of new hedgerow and rejuvenation of some 3,000km more.

According to the EPA, a full hedgerow assessment is needed if Ireland is to use hedgerows as part of actions to address the causes of climate change.


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