Social, Economic and Environmental Implications of Increasing Rural Land Use under Energy Crops

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Agro-Ecology

Abstract

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Description This project investigated the implications of increasing the area of perennial biomass crops Miscanthus and short rotation coppice (SRC) willow in the UK. GIS was used to map variations in Miscanthus yield across England and, then to mask areas where the crop would not be grown due to constraints on land use (e.g. designated areas). Top grade land (classes 1 and 2) were excluded as most existing biomass crop planting is on agricultural land classes 3 and 4.The study showed up to 2 million hectares could be grown without impacting food production significantly or affecting other land use. A survey of 24 sites across England revealed that compared to conventional crops: Field margins of SRC willow and Miscanthus crops have more butterflies of conservation interest; Pest species of butterflies were less abundant; There were more weeds and a greater range of invertebrates in willow, compared with Miscanthus; SRC willow is likely to have a positive impact on the abundance of both farmland and woodland birds. There are however certain scarce, declining or otherwise important species that may be negatively affected;The effects on bird populations from growing Miscanthus are less clear. Measurements of water-use at commercial field sites showed: The rooting depth of SRC willow and Miscanthus is no greater than deeper rooting annual crops; The water-use of SRC willow is similar to that of a cereal crop, higher than permanent grass and lower than that of mature woodlands; Water-use of Miscanthus approaches that of woodlands; The net effect of converting land to biomass crops will depend on the previous land-use, the soil type and climate.Public surveys using computer generated landscape view before (top) and after (below) Miscanthus planting showed that most members of the public were not particularly concerned about the appearance of these new crops and thought that they would fit in well with the current agricultural landscape. People were more concerned with lorry movements and where biomass processing units and power stations would be built. Wider margins, smaller, scattered fields (rather than large blocks of planting) and local small-scale end-uses were slightly more favoured than other planting options. A wide variety of factors were found to affect farmers' decisions on whether to grow energy crops. Profitability was the most important factor. Impacts of the crops on farmers' existing systems and their attitudes to risk management, market volatility and environmental issues were also important.
Exploitation Route Relu-Biomass biodiversity results are being used to revise the UK Energy Crops Scheme and advise policy on energy crop plantings by Natural England and Defra. They were also used by the NFU as evidence for including SRC as an option in the Campaign For the Farmed Environment. They have been used as evidence in EU policy on bioenergy and biofuels.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment

 
Description The potential for energy crops to contribute to the future energy supplies through providing a source of renewable carbon for heat and power and liquid transport fuels has been recognised by governments throughout the world. However, policy changes, rising concerns over the economic viability of energy cropping and increasing awareness of possible impacts on food security, water and other environmental issues, have checked the growth of the bioenergy and biofuel industries. Scientifically-based approaches which enable policy- and decision-makers to examine the possible impacts of different scenarios of energy crop plantings are urgently needed. For this to be satisfied, a robust evidence base and holistic approaches which enable integration across the different social, economic and environmental disciplines are also required. The UK interdisciplinary Relu-Biomass project focussed on filling in knowledge gaps though targeted research on the impacts of SRC willow and Miscanthus on visual appearance, social acceptability, biodiversity, hydrology and rural economics and has developed two approaches to provide integration and decision-making tools: GIS-based constraints mapping and Sustainability Appraisal. Continual engagement with stakeholders is an essential component of the project and in future, the expectation is that the tools will be utilised in planning expansion of energy crop plantings in the UK in ways which maximise positive impacts and minimise negative ones. Relu-Biomass biodiversity results are being used to revise the UK Energy Crops Scheme and advise policy on energy crop plantings by Natural England and Defra. They were also used by the NFU as evidence for including SRC as an option in the Campaign For the Farmed Environment.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description East Midlands Regional Assembly
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact unknown
 
Description NFU meeting London
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact Inclusion of SRC willow as an option in "Greening" of CAP
 
Description National England meeting
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Alterations were made in the Energy Crops Scheme regulatory criteria
 
Title Social, economic and environmental implications of increasing rural land use under energy crops, 2006-2009 
Description This is a mixed method data collection. The study is part of the Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) programme. This project integrated social, economic, hydrological and biodiversity studies in an interdisciplinary approach to assess the impacts of converting land to Miscanthus grass and short-rotation coppice (SRC) willows. The approach adopted was the Sustainability Appraisal Framework, more commonly used in land-use planning. Two contrasting farming systems were focussed on: the arable-, This is a mixed method data collection. The study is part of the Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) programme. This project integrated social, economic, hydrological and biodiversity studies in an interdisciplinary approach to assess the impacts of converting land to Miscanthus grass and short-rotation coppice (SRC) willows. The approach adopted was the Sustainability Appraisal Framework, more commonly used in land-use planning. Two contrasting farming systems were focussed on: the arable-domi 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The database has been used to analyse results of impacts on biodiversity for publications 
URL http://www.esds.ac.uk/findingData/snDescription.asp?sn=6615
 
Description Debate - The Energy Gap, Royal Show 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Stakeholder participated in a lively debate

unknown
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Energy Now Exposition 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Large stakeholders audience attended and discussed uptake of energy crops

unknown
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Presentation and debate on biofuels at the Cheltenham Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Not easy to judge but some press reports

Not easy to judge
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Unilevers Sustainable Advisory Board annual meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Lots of questions after

Unknown
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010