Campaigners are calling on the Government to set a target to increase hedgerows by 40% by 2050 to boost wildlife, farming and climate action.
CPRE, the countryside charity, also wants ministers to make it simple and accessible to get funding to plant new hedgerows, as surveying shows farmers value hedges on their land.
More than 1,100 farmers surveyed by Farmers Weekly on behalf of CPRE, the countryside charity, found 86% said hedgerows were important to them and their business, with wildlife habitat and nature corridors identified as the top benefit they provide, followed by shelter for crops or livestock.
More than eight in 10 (82%) supported CPRE’s campaign for a target to increase hedgerows by 40% by 2050 – in line with the advisory Climate Change Committee’s recommendations.
Nearly three-fifths (59%) of those quizzed had planted hedgerows in the last 10 years and are likely to plant more in the next five years.
But almost all (94%) had experienced barriers to planting hedgerows, with the top two issues identified being a lack of resources such as time and money, and the nature of government support.
The survey also found that seven in 10 would be encouraged to plant more hedgerows with government incentives and more than half (54%) would plant more with simple, accessible schemes.
CPRE said hedgerows bring beauty and character to the countryside and provide farmers with livestock-proof barriers that also give forage, shelter, and shade for animals, as well as habitat for pollinators and predators that prey on pests.
They also connect habitats and provide shelter and food for wildlife, protect soils, and absorb carbon emissions, a report from the charity said.
But many are in a poor condition across the country, and with 70% of UK land in agriculture, there is a huge scope for farmers and land managers to plant and restore hedgerows.
The charity wants the Government to set a national target to increase the hedgerow network by 40% by 2050, and in England, ensure the new agricultural payments known as Elms provide accessible entry level hedgerow measures, advice on management, and more ambitious options.
There also needs to be more funding for planting and restoration at farm and landscape scale, and private finance schemes need to be explored for a new major hedgerow programme, the charity urged.
Tom Fyans, interim chief executive of CPRE said: ”Farmers could not have been clearer about the value they place on hedgerows – they really care about supporting wildlife and nature on their land.
“The Government needs to tap into their enthusiasm by using Elms to provide simple, accessible schemes that support farmers to look after their hedgerows for everyone’s benefit.
“The hedgerow network, in its expanse, is our largest ‘nature reserve’.
“It provides forage, shelter and shade for animals; habitat for pollinators and pest predators; and absorbs carbon emissions while helping prevent both drought and flooding.
“That’s why CPRE is calling on the Government to commit to the target of 40% more hedgerows by 2050.”