Back eei-hedgerows
On-going projects

Hedgerows: Mapping the gaps

The
Challenge

The UK Government has identified afforestation as a means of contributing to national CO2 reduction targets. The Committee on Climate Change has estimated the UK needs to plant 30,000 hectares of trees per year and extend hedges by 40% by 2050. This equates to approximately 50 million trees annually and an extra 100,000 miles of hedgerow by 2050. It is currently unclear where these trees and hedges will be planted, however it is likely that the majority will be through commercial forestry, requiring large swathes of land.

eei-hedgerows-inset
The total length of hedgerows across Great Britain is estimated to be between 400,000 and 750,000 kilometres

Across the north of England, thousands of kilometres of hedgerow are fragmented by gaps. One way to maximise the available area for afforestation would be to fill in the existing gaps in hedgerows. Currently, little research has been undertaken into the potential of hedgerow gaps for this purpose, in comparison with research conducted into planting trees. Crucially, hedgerow gaps present the opportunity for afforestation, without the need for extensive land change. As the government develops new post-Brexit policy on land management, there may be additional incentives for landowners to plant hedges and fill hedgerow gaps.

The
Approach

Lead researchers

josh-wolstenholme

Project funded by

natural-england ferens-ed-trust-logo

Project partners

Supported by:

Natural England 

Ferens Education Trust

Hull and East Yorkshire Local Nature Partnership

This project aims to identify the location and size of hedgerow gaps within East Yorkshire, which will establish a baseline value of the potential space for plantation. Specifically, it will utilise freely available geospatial mapping products to accurately map the spatial characteristics of hedgerows and their gaps across the East Yorkshire region.

The project has three primary objectives; first, to develop an interactive map of the East Yorkshire region with hedgerows and gaps mapped using geographic information systems and deep learning. This will involve physically mapping a small number of one-kilometre squares to train a deep learning model that will be able to estimate where gaps and hedgerows are across the entire 2,000+ km2 area. The second is to establish a databank of high-resolution surveys of hedges and gaps to supplement objective one with additional data. The data will be available in an online web map interface where users can identify hedgerow gaps within East Yorkshire.

Thirdly, we are linked with the Youth Green Influencers Scheme run in partnership with the University of Hull and Energy and Environment Institute to develop a youth-led citizen science programme. The programme is co-led and co-developed with an advisory board of youth climate champions, informing every step of the development of the programme, including designing, testing and communicating the project. After the initial programme development, we will distribute learning resources, activities and equipment as part of a regional initiative, with a view to move nationally. These will be accessible by both individuals as well as schools and community groups. Currently, the citizens are developing sessions on 1) gathering hedgerow key metrics such as size, shape and density, 2) identifying soil type and experiments to measure moisture, and 3) biodiversity and habitat information. Data collected by the citizens will be used to refine the deep learning model, as well as to encourage taking ownership of their local environment.

Using a series of surveys, we are assessing the baseline understanding of the climate champions, their perceptions of the environment and their engagement, focusing on their learning journey. As a result of this project, we anticipate we will have encouraged citizen scientists to collect information about their local environment, supplemented the basic dataset with simple experiments and key environmental metrics, whilst observing motivation and attitude changes towards protecting the local environment.

 

Research Team:

Josh Wolstenholme - Project Lead

Katie Parsons

Freya Cooper

Dr Giles Davidson

Dr Josh Ahmed

Dr Rob Thomas

Dr Chun Keat Yew

Prof Dan Parsons

The Impact

The primary aim of this research is to identify and quantify hedgerows and hedgerow gaps in East Yorkshire, pinpointing specific locations where hedges could be restored or trees planted within hedgerow gaps. This could potentially expedite afforestation and atmospheric carbon reduction within the region.

The approach is highly scalable from the local to regional and national scales, especially when combined with the citizen science programme, encouraging community engagement and pro-environmental behaviours.

As well as capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, planting hedgerows is likely to benefit biodiversity and soil structure whilst also supporting natural flood management in the environment.

The interactive map will also provide key information for environment specialists and professionals to support strategic conservation of natural environments and habitat recovery/restoration.

This initiative aligns with the University’s vision for a fairer, brighter, carbon neutral future. By directly engaging young people in actively pursuing this vision it will help to open the horizons of youth participants, creating and empowering agents of change in combatting the climate crisis.

Next steps

This project is testing the effectiveness of the deep learning model in identifying hedgerow gaps, whilst also educating and empowering citizen scientists and developing a robust data collection method.

Future work includes improving the accuracy of the deep learning model, enhancing the functionality of the web map interface and rolling out the model and citizen science programme across Yorkshire and nationally. We are investigating the potential to quantifying hedgerow health via satellite imagery to provide a service for more targeted hedgerow restoration to improve ecological connectivity. This will be developed in conjunction with the citizen science programme, with a view to identify the sites for restoration, categorise sites with a ‘priority group’, ground truth with citizen scientists and finally perform restoration activities with local communities.

Other on-going research projects