Growing Green Energy

Landscapes need not be destroyed to harness energy

Imagine the area shown in black was woodland or a biomass crop!

Dorset might take a lesson from the past. What once was a forest could grow green energy for the future. Why glass over the highly valued landscape and put the fields in shadow when they could be using the sun to grow our way to a low carbon future. 

The Climate Change Committee reported in January 2020 on Land Use policies for a Net Zero UK. It envisaged using 20% of the UK’s agricultural land by 2050 to reduce emissions and sequester carbon. That means expanding the land devoted to new Woodlands and Bioenergy Crops by over 50,000 hectares per year.

What are the benefits?

Planting woodland to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, known as woodland carbon capture, is a cost-effective way of compensating for emissions while also providing many other social and environmental benefits. A new native woodland can capture 300-400 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per hectare by year 50. Bioenergy crops take up and release CO2 each year in a closed loop.

And for the Farmer? 

Countryside Stewardship or Woodland Carbon Fund grants can be used to create woodland and then, under the Woodland Carbon Code,  the farmer can claim carbon ‘rights’ that can be sold to generate an income for decades.

  1. Land Use: Policies for a Net Zero UK

CCC January 2020

The challenges in the Blackmore Vale are very different than in the Skares Field Trial area but, lessons can be learned from this important study that could help ‘Hardy’s Vale’ survive into the future while making a significant contribution to the country’s green energy needs..

SKARES FIELD TRIAL – FINAL REPORT JULY 2016

SKARES FIELD TRIAL – ADDENDUM REPORT MARCH 2019

Eadha Enterprises was awarded £37k from the Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) to develop Growing Green Energy (GGE) Project based initially in East Ayrshire.

Eadha has a vision for ecological restoration on a landscape scale across a large area of East Ayrshire which has been subject to widespread opencast coal mining activity and is surrounded by communities struggling to find new employment opportunities following the closure of the deep mines. Increasing costs of gas and electricity together with environmental concerns over coal and oil mean that more renewable and sustainable energy sources are required to meet our needs.  GGE aims to show that landscapes need to not be destroyed to harness energy.  Thriving native forests if properly designed and managed can meet the need of local communities as well as providing a sink for local biodiversity.

Study Area

The study area broadly comprises of commercial conifer plantation within its central core, surrounded almost entirely by a mosaic of rough grazing land interspersed with a number of opencast mines and areas of dereliction associated with previous mining and industrial activity.  Importantly, it is also subject to a number of applications for new mines and mines that have been approved.  The Study Area lies within “Preferred Areas” for new woodland planting and includes areas with “Potential for Environmental Enhancement” identified in the Ayrshire and Arran Woodland Strategy (AAWS), and GGE’s objectives will therefore help to deliver the strategy in this area.

The terrain in question is generally challenging to the establishment of mixed native woodland.  Reclaimed opencast mines often have only thin layers of topsoil and subsoils are often compacted.  Many areas are of an exposed upland nature with naturally thin and acidified soils.  On this basis, Eadha proposes to use native aspen as the dominant component of initial planting as the first phase in creating this vision.  Aspen is the pioneer tree, the first species to colonise the British Isles following the last Ice Age.  Aspen is the one tree that could thrive in these decimated and marginal landscapes, acting as a nurse crop to neutralise and improve soils for mixed woodlands in the longer term.  The occurrence of large tracts of land becoming available following the reinstatement of the opencast mines offers an opportunity to develop a new model for sustainable social, economic and environmental regeneration.

The Integrated Habitat Network

A network of new native woodlands linking the Doon Valley with Nithsdale, bridging watersheds  and completing a major link in CSGN’s Integrated Habitat Network (IHN) on a regional scale is envisaged, delivering a project at the scale fitting for the areas designation as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Fig. 3 Potential Habitat networks in the IHN

Aspen Growth Trial

A planting trial was established at the operational Skares Opencast Coal Site to prove the efficacy of aspen in colonising reclaimed land.  The trial area covers approximately 3Ha.  The trial plot was planted with three main compartments comprising a range of native aspen clones.  Some downy willow and juniper were also planted to provide some diversity.  The soils at this site are extremely poor with limited cover of organic topsoil overlying compacted clay.  However, no soil amendments have been used.  The trial will form the basis of a research project to inform future large scale planting projects in different parts of Scotland.

Feasibility Study

The feasibility study explored how a partnership of the Forestry Commission and other local agencies and NGOs including East Ayrshire Woodlands together with Eadha Enterprises could deliver this as a large scale project.  The feasibility study was largely about gathering baseline data and devising a model and structure for the project, for example investigating the options for land management agreements.  The study also looked at how community based woodfuel supply chains could be established using the future timber resource at GGE sites.

Conclusions

  • Social Impacts: 10,000 directly benefit from better health
  • East Ayrshire would be self-sufficient in woodfuel
  • Transformation of landscapes attracting visitors to the Biosphere Reserve
  • Rare species conserved;
  • Local Communities actively managing their local forests for their own benefits.

Partners

  • Oxfam Scotland                     
  • Forestry Commission
  • East Ayrshire Woodlands
  • Scottish Environmental Technology Network

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