A new report for the Environmental Protection Agency has found that an expansion in hedgerow and non-forest woodlands in Ireland could make a significant contribution to reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

The report also showed how it is possible to measure that contribution using modern light detection and ranging technology.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, it would be possible in the future for Ireland to use the carbon sink activity of new hedgerows to offset carbon emissions elsewhere in the economy.

The report estimates that hedgerows and non-forest woodlands have the potential to take up to 3.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare out of Ireland's atmosphere each year.

However, because of the way that the carbon reduction would be accounted for under EU and Kyoto rules, the net carbon reduction potential of Ireland's hedgerows would be significantly lower than that.

Nevertheless, it is still estimated that new Irish hedgerows could still contribute up to 17,000 tonnes of carbon reduction per year.

The report highlights that the so-called LiDAR technology required to calculate the contribution of hedgerows is readily available.

However, it points out that because of survey costs associated with using the technology it would require the international cost of carbon removal units to be above €6 per tonne before it makes economic sense to calculate the contribution of the hedgerows.

Currently the international cost and the carbon removal units is in the region of just 40 cent, so the use of this technology would not be immediately feasible.

However, the implication of the report is that in the future, particularly after the year 2020, when the cost of carbon is expected to be much higher, an expansion of Irish hedgerows could make a very significant contribution towards achieving Ireland's carbon emissions targets.

It is currently estimated that Ireland has in the region off 428,000 hectares of hedgerow woodland and scrub throughout the country.

Co Cork has the most at 57,000 hectares, followed by Tipperary at 25,000 hectares, and Galway, which has an estimated 30,000 hectares of hedgerow woodland and scrub.

The report for the Environmental Protection Agency is titled "Carbon Sequestration by Hedgerows in the Irish landscape".