When I arrived home from work the other week, my heart sank as I saw a letter from my energy provider laying on the mat. We receive our bills by email so this could only mean one thing: the dreaded price increase was coming! We'd avoided it so far, but the warnings all over the media over the last couple of weeks meant it was bound to catch up with us sooner or later. We'll have to take it on the chin for now, but I was given hope for the size of future bills when I heard about the exciting new developments at our Nagshead reserve. This week they've opened the doors to their refurbished visitor centre which is completely "off-grid"! It's not connected to any mains supply and gets its power from a combination of state of the art solar panels and a high efficiency wood burner. The icing on the cake is a "living roof" made of low growing drought resistant plants.
Hannah Morton, who manages the reserve, explains why the improvements to the centre are so important:
"Climate change is the biggest threat to wildlife globally and we need to do every bit we can to help reduce our dependence on energy derived from oil and coal. This visitor centre is a great example of what can be done with a little thought. "
These improvements were made possible by European funding distributed through Forest of Dean Local Action Group, so a big THANK YOU to them.
Being "off-grid" at home isn't something we personally can achieve at the moment, but a girl can dream...
To find out more about the centre, check out the latest post on the Nagshead blog.
Guest blogger: Mel Coath, Senior Climate Change Ploicy Officer
Last week I had a fascinating trip into the Canadian forests to understand what is happening on the ground where forests are harvested for bioenergy. The particular forest I visited is known as boreal transition forest – an area where boreal coniferous tree species are mixed with southern deciduous species. We arrived in Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park late last night after a long drive from Ottawa and stayed overnight in a little forest cabin. Early the next day we were picked up by Chris McDonell, the forest manager of Tembec, a Canadian forest company and driven deeper into the forest to look at some trial plots for harvesting forests for bieonergy. This particular forest company is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). At the RSPB we’ve been calling for the UK Government to adopt FSC as a minimum standard for forest harvesting so it was very interesting to see what this looks like on the ground. The three trial plots were taking different approaches to using forest material for bioenergy. The first involved extracting greater levels of the harvesting residues left behind once the trunk of the tree has been used for saw wood or wood chips, meaning less residue is left behind on the forest floor. The second involved taking out all the old trees and leaving the young ones behind to regenerate. The third involved leaving behind a large proportion of the residue forest material and not removing it for bioenergy. As you can see they use pretty big kit!
Looking at a map of forest management plans
Standing in front of a biomass pile
Big forestry kit
Plot where lots of harvesting material is left on the forest floor.
From what I’ve learned over the past 2 days it seems that the forest sector in Canada could absorb some additional demand for woody material for bioenergy by using a proportion of the forestry residues that are currently left on the forest floor. They could also use the significant quantities of tree limbs that are already dragged to the roadside and burned or left to break down.
However, if the economic situation changes and demand and prices for bioenergy rise then much greater quantities of residues could be removed from the forest which, as mentioned in my previous blog, could have significant negative impacts on wildlife. While FSC forests have a number of measures to protect wildlife when forests are harvested, many of Canada’s forests are not FSC certified. Provincial forestry laws vary widely but do not usually provide significant protection. Instead it is likely that economics will drive forestry practices. Increased clearcuts for biomass could also take place as is happening already in Nova Scotia where they have ramped up this practice, in particular on private land. One pulp mill in Nova Scotia is currently building a $208 million burner that will burn 650,000 tonnes of wood a year to produce 60 megawatts of power. And, that's just one burner on one tenure in one small province!
I’m aware that I still only have part of the picture from my short visit to Canada but with the contacts I’ve made and the numerous reports I’m bringing back, this will help the RSPB develop a much clearer picture of the impacts that a massive increase in demand for biomass from overseas will have on the ground in countries such as Canada.
Guest blogger: Mel Coath, Senior Climate Change Policy Officer
On my way back from the climate change negotiations I stopped off in Canada to understand what the potential impacts are of a massive expansion of demand for Canadian wood from the UK, other countries in the EU and Japan. RSPB research published a month ago revealed that the US and Canada are expected to supply a substantial proportion of wood to be burned in UK bioenergy plants (for more information see Biomass: A burning issue).
While in Ottawa, I met a number of NGO and industry folks to get a clearer idea of how a big increase in wood fuel demand from overseas might affect Canadian forests. I started by meeting the Forest Products Association of Canada and learnt that already a sizeable amount of wood pellets are exported from Canada to the US and Europe. This expansion took place before the recent pine beetle epidemic which has given rise to a large quantity of additional forest material available to be burnt as bioenergy. British Columbia on the west of Canada has been particularly badly hit by the pine beetle although it’s spreading east through the country. However, this additional material is not inexhaustible and increases in the use of other residues and additional harvesting are likely to take place in the future in response to a substantial additional demand for bioenergy.
Here I am with two of the chaps from the Forest Products Association of Canada.
I was interested to learn that harvest residues, left over once roundwood has been harvested, can be more than 50% of the total wood extracted from forests and although some regulation exists which encourages foresters to leave behind wood in the forest, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has shown that over extraction for bioenergy can be damaging. Leaving some of this material behind is important for birds that nest in dead wood such as the Great Grey Owl, for mammals such as pine martens and for invertebrates that live in the soil layers.
I also learned from my meetings later in the day with Nature Canada, RSPB’s Canadian BirdLife Partner, that in some provinces such as Nova Scotia, levels of harvesting and extraction of wood are very high indeed. I resolved to follow up a number of leads to find out what the scale of this practice is and the likely implications for birds and other wildlife. I also made plans to head out into the forests 3 hours from Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, to see for myself what is happening on the ground.
Me and the lovely people from Nature Canada
New research confirms what we already knew! This time it’s not that sport is good for your health or smoking is bad for you, but that climate change is happening – and the earth has warmed by about one degrees on average over the last century.
This is what the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (BEST) is reporting. BEST was set up in response to sceptics concerns, and consisted of a thorough analysis of the Earth’s temperature records. It even had sceptics involved and funding linked to infamous climate sceptics, the Koch brothers.
So, climate change is happening, and we are seeing evidence across the world of how it is already having detrimental impacts on wildlife and ecosystems. As you can imagine, we are deeply concerned about this, and about the fact that wildlife & ecosystems are often the forgotten victims when it comes to climate change. To address this, we’re working with Natural England and WWF-UK to host a conference Climate change: wildlife and people on the frontline at the Royal Society in London on the 9th of November, to make this case in the run-up to the Durban global climate negotiations.
We’ve got leading scientists to bring us up to date with climate change impacts, as well as a response from Lord Taylor, the new Defra minister responsible for climate adaptation.
If you’d like to attend, please email email@example.com
The Government today finally published their proposals for future support for renewable energy.
We and many others have been waiting for these for some time, concerned about rumours that they had got held up by Treasury and then in Number 10.
There have been no shortages of critics of renewables over the past year, exaggerating the impact green subsidies are having on bills and misleading the public over the efficiency of wind power.
But Government have stood their ground and announced that subsidies for renewables will, for the most part, continue as they are. In fact, support will be increased for wave and tidal stream power, which is great news as these technologies have serious potential in the UK and we think they can be deployed sensitively and with minimal impact.
Furthermore, support wasn’t increased for biomass electricity, casting doubt on the future of many of the proposed biomass plant that would have turned the UK into a massive importer of wood from across the world. Read more about why the RSPB has been calling for subsidies to be cut for biomass here.
All in all, today’s announcements add up to good news for the environment. We’re facing an economic crisis, as well as a climate and ecological crisis, and renewable energy has a key role to play in overcoming all three of these challenges. The continued support announced today will ensure the industry can live up to this promise.