Select Committee on Environmental Audit Memoranda


Memorandum from the Woodland Trust

  The Woodland Trust welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry. The comments that follow are delivered on behalf of the United Kingdom's leading charity solely dedicated to the conservation of native and broadleaved woodland. We achieve our purposes through a combination of acquiring woodland and sites for planting and through wider advocacy of the importance of protecting ancient woodland, enhancing its biodiversity, expanding woodland cover and increasing public enjoyment. We own over 1,050 sites across the country, covering over 17,500 hectares.


  We welcome the statement in the Climate Change Programme that "the Government and the devolved administrations recognise the importance of developing renewable sources of energy as a part of the drive for sustainable development and the long term response to climate change".[18] However, we look to the Government to step up the rate of progress significantly above and beyond the proposal that 10 per cent of the UK's electricity requirements should be produced from renewable sources by 2010. We are especially concerned about the slow rate of progress being made on investment in energy generation from wood fuel. Already the UK is behind many of its European partners in terms of biomass energy generation—for example biomass energy already accounts for 12 per cent, 18 per cent and 23 per cent of energy supply in Austria, Sweden and Finland respectively.[19] It is estimated that England and Wales together generate only 1.2 per cent of their electricity from biomass with Scotland only reaching 0.1 per cent.[20] The figure for energy generated from wood fuel would be smaller still, despite the fact that the UK has one of the best climates in Europe for growing trees. It is imperative that the use of wood fuel is promoted so that the UK can generate significant levels of energy from this renewable material.


  Although the UK Climate Change Programme notes that the Government "is working with a wide range of stakeholders to promote the use of wood as fuel. A stable market for wood fuel will assist the sustainable management of currently under managed or derelict woods in the south of England and improve commercial conifer plantations in Scotland where timber production is set to double over the next 15-20 years",[21] we were disappointed that the renewables obligation did not provide capital grants for the use of wood as a fuel.

  There appears to be a false distinction made in the renewables obligation between energy creation from short rotation coppice and the use of wood fuel. This is despite the fact that energy generation from both fuel sources involves similar processes. It is important that capital grants under the renewables obligation incentivise energy generation from wood fuel as well as from energy crops. In the UK Climate Change Programme it is acknowledged that "the total annual wood fuel resource from forestry and arboriculture in England, Scotland and Wales is over one million dried tonnes".[22] It therefore seems strange that the use of forestry residues as a viable means for energy creation is given such a low profile throughout the draft obligation. The Trust believes that there are three main reasons why wood fuel should be given a higher profile in the obligation:

1.  There is a need for immediate action:

  There will be a lead in time for energy crops of at least three to four years. Short rotation coppice schemes will need to be designed, grants will need to be applied for, and the crops planted, and it will not be until the second or third growing season that the crop is actually ready. There is a huge resource already available in woods that could be used in the meantime. The Forestry Commission initiated study An Evaluation of Market Outlets for Broadleaved Timber in South-East England (1998) sought to identify potential uses for up to 200,000 tonnes a year of low-grade broadleaved roundwood in South East England. We believe that wood fuel is a prime candidate for use of this timber.

2.  Benefits for the local economy:

  Use of timber from existing woodland could play an important role in sustaining rural communities, providing employment opportunities in timber harvesting and transport and supply chains. The Department of Trade and Industry estimates that a 20MW plant (supplying energy for around 20,000 homes) would provide full-time employment for 48 permanent staff and also significant short-term employment opportunities.[23] Although this is an example of a medium to large scale plant there is certainly an opportunity in the south of England for example, for small to medium sized plants serving up to 5,000 homes which would provide significant economic benefits to local communities. It would also help to support the forestry sector and could offer valuable diversification opportunities for farmers.

3.  Using wood as a fuel can provide significant environmental benefits:

  There are also potential environmental benefits over and above those provided by other sources of renewable energy. For example, much of the broadleaf woodland in the South East has traditionally been managed on some form of coppice system. A diverse array of plants and animals has survived in these woods over the centuries that are adapted to this management system. Interruption of the coppice cycle as a result of market collapse for small diameter timber has led to a rapid ecological decline of many these woods. For example the heath fritillary butterfly requires the open sunny habitats produced by coppicing to breed. As coppice grows the area becomes more and more unsuitable for the butterfly and it moves on. Its number has declined by over 90 per cent in the last 30 years primarily due to a reduction in the amount of coppicing being practised. Development of renewable energy systems based upon low grade, small diameter coppice would not only reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, but would have the additional benefit of helping to halt the ecological decline of one of our most important habitats.

  For these reasons the Woodland Trust would like to see the renewables obligation contain strong provision to encourage the use of forestry residues in energy generation. We believe that the Government should encourage the creation of power plants that burn both forest residue and short rotation coppice product to help the market develop.

  The Trust would also like to pursue the question of integration between the grants provided by MAFF for development of energy crops under the Rural Development Programmes and the renewables obligation. We would like to see a clear statement from Government that MAFF's schemes will be fully integrated into the renewables obligation to ensure that the schemes are "joined up".


  The Woodland Trust is concerned that in the profile of the renewables obligation, the annual increment as a percentage of sales rises to 2007 and then drops off. If the Government is going to meet the post Kyoto target of a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 recommended by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and acknowledged as necessary by the Prime Minister in his speech to the CBI / Green Alliance in October, then targets for the annual increment in the renewables obligation need to rise ever more steeply and should be set for a far longer period. It is essential that investment be sustained to ensure that in the future a significant proportion of our energy is derived from renewable sources.


  Sensible planning is essential to ensure that projects are able to develop while ensuring that the damage caused by the developing market is kept to a minimum. However, while the Trust wishes to see the Government promoting renewable energy, we do not believe that the planning system should give "favoured status" to renewable energy schemes. Equally, we do not feel that they should be treated more rigorously than any other industrial development. Instead the planning system should be used to identify where renewable energy facilities would be best developed, and encourage their development, for example in association with new housing development.

  The planning system as it stands puts up several potential barriers to the development of wood fuelled heat and power stations. These include limitations on acceptable transportation distances and concerns over the conversion of agricultural land to wood crops. We hope that the limitations on what is perceived as acceptable transportation distances are classed as guidelines rather than being set in stone, to ensure that development of wood fired power stations is not inhibited. We would also like to see a requirement for structure plans to include a commitment to provide new developments with heat and power from renewable resources.

  In order to minimise impact on the environment and possible resultant conflicts with the planning system and the needs of the transportation network, we would favour the use of small-scale heat and electricity generating plants. These should serve local users and use wood fuel from local woods. This would ensure that the impact of transportation would be kept to a minimum. It would also create jobs in the local area and help to improve the local environment.

January 2001

18   DETR (2000) Climate Change; the UK Programme, p62. Back

19   European Commission COM (97) 599 final (26/11/1997) Energy for the Future: Renewable Sources of Energy. White Paper for a Community Strategy and Action Plan, p37. Back

20   Helen Liddell, MP Minister for Energy question for written answer 146475, 25 January 2001. Back

21   DETR (2000) Climate Change; the UK Programme, p115. Back

22   DETR (2000) Climate Change; the UK Programme, 2.7 para 17. Back

23   DTI (2000) Wood Fuel for Electricity and Heat: Benefits to the Local Economy. Back

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