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Biofuel Britain powered by willow trees and exotic grass

by David Masters
September 18, 2009
Energy Environment

Fields of coppice willow and exotic grass could help to meet the UK’s energy needs and reduce carbon emissions.

New research published this week found the traditional practise of coppicing could provide biofuel to cut Britain’s carbon emissions and provide a haven for wildlife.

The government wants to plant up to a million hectares of coppice willow and miscanthus grass to produce biomass for generating electricity.

A team of researchers from the universities of East Anglia and Exeter investigated the potential effects of these new plants on farmland biodiversity, water usage, and on the aesthetic of Britain’s landscapes.

They found that coppice willow has positive effects for butterflies, insects, and bird species, and uses similar levels of water to cereal crops.

Miscanthus had no negative effects on wildlife, and uses a similar amount of water to woodland.

Computer simulations were used to gauge public reactions on changes to landscape appearance from growing these crops.

Most people asked expressed little reaction to the visual changes in the landscape.

Lead researcher Dr Angela Karp said: “Fields of [coppice] 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.”

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