Following a forum at the University of Lincoln, Simon Odell explains how waste from landscape management activities is now being seen as a potential resource.

    Image: Autumn Welsh Road, James Woolley
    Improved economics of cutting road verges, and indeed any landscape management operation that generates arisings, is coming closer according to research and experiences presented at the Biomass Supply Chain forum. The forum which was held at the University of Lincoln heard about studies in Lincolnshire that give confidence to both landscape managers and energy from biomass producers at a variety of scales to go to the next stage and start some trials.
    Using “low input high diversity biomass” (as grass cuttings and hedge clippings are known) in various energy generation systems, has the potential to score highly in terms of carbon displacement targets being set by Ofgem and so from 5th October such trials are likely to be encouraged.
    The variety of approaches being explored gives some prospect of a breakthrough. Cathy Gillespie CMLI from Nottinghamshire County Council wondered if highway depots might be an opportunity locally. Nick White from Natural England (NE) is working strategically with a number of partners and about to develop a linear infrastructure network group under the green infrastructure partnership and has offered the forum support.

    NE is very interested in this technology, particularly in terms of its potential to be delivering enhanced landscape management which could then start to contribute towards biodiversity objectives. NE considers that some colleagues in the Environment Agency would also want to support initiatives that regard roadside assets as genuine rather than a liability.There are however some obstacles. Arisings from landscape management operations on road verges for example are currently seen as waste, unlike the arisings from energy crops possibly being harvested the other side of the hedge.

    Waste is also more heavily regulated. Another challenge is that landscape managers may find it difficult to compete with farmers who are able to generate large quantities of cleaner material. The need to cut verges and recreation areas at particular times could be a factor. The naturally fibrous nature of the material also limits the types of equipment it can be fed into and then there is investment required for new equipment to collect cuttings.

    Whilst very supportive of these developments, the Landscape Institute is looking ahead and suggesting that thinking starts to develop in tandem with capacity planning. If this takes off it may lead to energy plants competing too aggressively in certain areas for the kind of biomass that landscape management generates. With more aggressive landscape management than desirable, some investments could become abortive. Nevertheless the LI would encourage members to be open to this mechanism for making the landscapes they are responsible for more sustainable.

    Simon Odell CMLI


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