£1.5m for forestry biomass research

Researchers are being given about £1.5m of funding to examine the possibility of using fast-growing trees for renewable energy.

Defra has announced the funding package will be given to a three-year research project looking at short rotation forestry.

The idea was one of a number of proposals in the Renewable Energy Strategy consultation, which closed last month.

A number of sites will be used for large-scale planting of a range of trees that could be used for biomass, such as eucalyptus or broad-leaved species.

The plots will be monitored to assess their environmental impacts and the sustainability of short rotation forestry as a renewable energy source.

A Defra spokeswoman said: “We want to understand any sustainability impacts before we proceed further.”

Under short rotation forestry, fast-growing tree species that are suitable for harvesting at between six and ten years old are used, compared to conventional forestry which uses species that grow for at least 20 years before harvesting.

The Forestry Commission England, the Government department responsible for managing the country’s forests and woodlands, will work with Defra to set up the project.

It is hoped it will provide researchers with vital scientific data on hydrology, carbon balance, economic viability, biodiversity and possible environmental risks of the initiative.

Defra is already supporting farmers growing perennial energy crops for heat and power use through the Energy Crops Scheme.

Under the scheme, growers receive 40% of the costs of establishing crops of miscanthus and short rotation coppice such as willow.

Kate Martin

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