Teesdale Moorland Biomass Project – Gaining value from moorland biomass: novel uses for heather and other upland crops

Led by TEC Ltd

There is about 350,000 ha of managed heather moor in England alone. These moors, and other upland areas where invasive species such as bracken are considered a nuisance, often adopt rotational top vegetation burning as a land management tool. Each year between 15,000 – 30,000 ha of heather are burned in England, with thousands of tonnes of dry matter burned, losing any resultant heat energy.

If left to grow unchecked, heather can grow too tall for ground nesting birds, and can dry out peaty soils, increasing CO2 emissions, instead of helping peat moors act as vital carbon sinks. Excessive vegetation in upland areas is also prone to drying out in drought conditions, with the risk of catastrophic wildfires. Harvesting heather can therefore be seen as a net environmental benefit.

The Teesdale Moorland Biomass Project aims to utilise this existing crop and harvest commercially viable biomass products from naturally generated moorland crops that are currently burned in situ as part of annual land management practices. This can be done by replicating current land management practices, ensuring high conservation value is maintained.

The characteristics of heather lend themselves to biomass production. Unlike wood and willow crops, heather has a low moisture content, making the production of biomass material more efficient and cost effective. As landowners face increasing pressure to end the traditional reliance on heather burning as a standard management tool, the Teesdale Moorland Biomass Project offers a viable alternative approach that also helps meet the UK’s climate change targets.

The Teesdale Moorland Biomass Project Briefing

The Teesdale Moorland Biomass (TMB) Project is a collaboration led by Ewan Boyd of North Pennines based Teesdale Environmental Consulting Ltd (TEC Ltd) in a collaboration with Barningham Estates and botanists at Durham University.

Each year between 15,000 – 30,000 ha of heather moorland is subject to controlled burning in England, in order to maintain the moors in peak condition for ground nesting birds, thereby supporting the economically important grouse shooting industry. Thousands of tonnes of dry matter are burned annually, losing any resultant heat energy.

The project is exploring the practicalities of diverting the burned heather into a biomass production system, producing briquettes for the local domestic market and pellets for domestic or commercial heat applications.

In Phase 1 a small scale trial harvest enabled a limited batch of briquette production from a test pressing, with Phase 2 developing a larger scale harvesting methodology, designing and building a dedicated heather drier, and working with others to assess the best avenues for biomass production and market testing of the end products.

Up to 20 tonnes of finished biomass is expected to be produced during the project, and the project will also assess the impacts on soils and moorland ecology of heather cropping compared to burning, with Dr John Bothwell of Durham University leading a soil sampling and testing program as part of the research project.

 

Further details can be provided by

TEESDALE ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTING Ltd

Sustainable solutions for business and the community

Ewan Boyd

email: [email protected]

tel: 01833 640327

mob: 07896 236893

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