Perennial energy crops could be good for carbon savings and for wildlife

Sep 16, 2009
Fields of miscanthus in the English landscape

Growing the energy crops short rotation coppice (SRC) willow and miscanthus grass could help the UK to reduce carbon emissions and benefit wildlife, according to researchers from the UK Research Councils’ Rural Economy and Land Use Programme.

Dr Angela Karp at Rothamsted Research led an interdisciplinary team from the universities of and Exeter, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, in a major research project to identify the effects of increasing the amount of land used to grow these new crops.  Their calculations suggest that planting biomass crops to generate electricity does lead to net savings in greenhouse gases, compared with current emissions.

SRC willow and miscanthus are already grown over c17,000 hectares in the UK to provide electricity and heat.  Government policies aim to encourage up to around one million hectares, some of which could also be processed into transport fuels.  But concerns have been raised about the likely effects on farmland biodiversity, water resources and familiar landscapes, as well as the pressures on land used for growing food crops.

The researchers found that the SRC willow in particular actually had positive effects for butterflies, some invertebrates and most bird species.  Looking at water usage, they found that SRC willow is similar to cereal crops, while miscanthus is more comparable to woodlands. 

The team also consulted members of the public about the changes to landscape appearance that would result from growing these novel crops, using virtual-reality computer simulations.  Most people showed little concern about the aesthetic effects of the planting, although some expressed worries about lorry movements and processing units. 

Dr Angela Karp said: “Fields of SRC willow and the exotic grass miscanthus are still quite unfamiliar in the UK countryside and it is important to look at all the implications of increasing the hectarage.

“Our results suggest that there is definite potential for growing more of them, without negative effects, although we do find that sensitive plantation design would be beneficial, both for wildlife and for aesthetic impact.

“One of the outcomes from our project is detailed mapping across England, which identifies areas which could be suitable for growing energy .  This shows that we could meet government objectives of growing 350,000 hectares of these for electricity without impacting on food production.  However, to meet an additional 750,000 for transport fuels would increase pressure on available land.”

Provided by Newcastle University

Explore further: A European bear's point of view, finally on film

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Energy crops take a roasting

May 21, 2008

A process used to roast coffee beans could give Britain's biomass a power boost, increasing the energy content of some of the UK’s leading energy crops by up to 20 per cent.

A carbon-neutral way to power your home

Nov 27, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- A super-efficient system that has the potential to power, heat and cool homes across the UK is being developed at Newcastle University.

Biofuels: More than just ethanol

Apr 05, 2007

As the United States looks to alternate fuel sources, ethanol has become one of the front runners. Farmers have begun planting corn in the hopes that its potential new use for corn will be a new income source. What many ...

Pollinator decline not reducing crop yields just yet

Nov 10, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- The well-documented worldwide decline in the number of bees and other pollinators is not, at this stage, limiting global crop yields, according to the results of an international study published ...

Recommended for you

Sharks contain more pollutants than polar bears

21 hours ago

The polar bear is known for having alarmingly high concentrations of PCB and other pollutants. But researchers have discovered that Greenland sharks store even more of these contaminants in their bodies.

Moth study suggests hidden climate change impacts

Apr 15, 2014

A 32-year study of subarctic forest moths in Finnish Lapland suggests that scientists may be underestimating the impacts of climate change on animals and plants because much of the harm is hidden from view.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.