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Social, Economic and Environmental Implications of Increasing Rural Land Use under Energy Crops

  • Start date: 01 March 2006
  • End date: 30 September 2009

Renewable energies are crucial for meeting the UK Government’s energy and environmental objectives, particularly energy security and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Perennial crops grown for biomass production, such as Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) willow and the exotic grass, miscanthus, are a renewable energy source which is carbon neutral, because the quantities of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere on combusting the crop are equal to those absorbed by photosynthesis during crop growth.

Future policies are likely to encourage plantings of biomass crops, particularly as they provide new opportunities for farmers. Biomass crops differ from the annual arable crops and grassland they are likely to replace, in the habitat they provide, in their life cycle, growth characteristics and general appearance.

It is important to understand the impacts of changing land use to biomass crops in order to optimise the gains and minimise any potential downsides. Using two UK regions as study areas, this project will examine the sustainability of SRC willow and miscanthus relative to arable crops and grassland by comparing rural economics, social acceptability, landscape character, water use and biodiversity. The results will provide scientific tools for assessing where energy crop plantings can be placed for achieving maximum benefits.