Rothamsted Research shows growing SRC willow boosts biodiversity

Iggesund have stimulated the rural economy by sourcing fuel for their heat and electricity needs from local farmers.

This has given farmers the opportunity to diversify part of their farm businesses and become energy suppliers. Providing Iggesund with biomass fuel derived from SRC willow plantations can contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions and play a role in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change. As well as providing a new on farm income stream, research led by Rothamsted Research shows that SRC willow plantations in arable farmland can enhance landscape biodiversity.

Dr Alison Haughton, a Rothamsted Research scientist, who led the study, said: “In order to inform planting strategies of crops that can contribute to energy security whilst conserving and enhancing biodiversity, we need to carry out landscape level studies and examine a range of biodiversity indicators in detail. This is exactly what we did in this study”. Perennial crops, such as SRC willow, remain in the ground for long periods and require low agro-chemical inputs (fertilisers & pesticides). Perennial crops are very different to food crops that are grown for biofuel on an annual basis with high inputs.

William Macalpine, Willow Breeder at Rothamsted Research says; “Growing SRC willow in the North of England offers farmers an interesting low input diversification option that is beneficial to on farm biodiversity and produces a renewable fuel which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The trial was planted in May 2016 to assess the performance of current willow varieties at a flood prone site. The trial was designed by statisticians at Rothamsted Research. It contains 5 varieties bred at Rothamsted Research and 8 other current commercial varieties bred by other willow breeders. The trial is located at a flood prone site close to the River Cocker, upstream from Cockermouth. William Macalpine, willow breeder, said “In nature, willows are always synonymous with wetlands, so they make a great choice of crop to plant in flood prone locations”.