KEY BENEFITS OF MULTI-FUNCTIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL CROPS

It’s not often that industry can truly say it is ‘in sync’ with nature, but Iggesund’s recent project to plant willow crop behind the Mill should offer some remarkable benefits to the surrounding habitat.

The combination of planting the willow saplings and a scattering of a seed mix of wild flowers around the edge of the plantation is already providing a new and welcomed sanctuary for wildlife.

It’s widely known that short rotation coppice (SRC) planting of willow can significantly improve ecological diversity of an agricultural landscape. Invertebrates which live within the willow encourage and increase the number of small mammals, bird species and also individual birds present. Some of these can be found in high numbers throughout the year with many of the bird species being of high conservation value such as skylark, lapwing, reed bunting, song thrush and many breeding migrant warblers. As many as 25 species of butterflies have been identified in and around SRC willow plantations nationwide, a rise of up to 130% on land previously used for arable crops.

In addition, since willow grows rapidly and it is multi-stemmed, it can also play its part in preventing flooding in areas which might otherwise be at risk, as well as enhancing pollutant uptake and sediment retention. Whilst these particular benefits of SRC might not necessarily apply to the land at Iggesund where flooding isn’t a risk, it does confirm that willow crops offer more than just a fuel source in the longer term.

Neil Watkins, Iggesund’s Alternative Fuels Manager added: “A number of growers we have already spoken to in other parts of the UK have also confirmed that willow plantations often improve the conditions for biodiversity, so we are also hoping to see the benefit of this at Workington.”

Great care is taken to ensure that product is harvested during the dormant growing period, this provides minimal disturbance to any wildlife. SRC is a long term crop and re-grows after harvest; this brings many benefits both for carbon storage and for biodiversity.