Willow plantations can contribute to more sustainable environment

WILLOW PLANTATIONS RI Farm

By Chris Johnston,

AFBI Agri-Environment Branch

WITH a recognised need to im-prove water quality in river catchments across Ireland, a recent cross border seminar explored the benefits of using ‘nature-based’ solutions for Water Quality Protection.

The event, held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dundalk on March 5, explored the benefits of Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) willow planting and aimed to assess stakeholder interest and commitment to the principle of SRC and how this might fit with national strategies and address future environmental challenges.

The event was organised by Donegal County Council, the Agri-food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and Teagasc as part of the

EU-funded Interreg CatchmentCARE (Community Actions for Resilient Eco-systems) project.

The seminar explored Short Rotation Coppice through a number of presentations, information polls

and a question and answer session. The event was attended by those involved in water and environmental policy, water util-ities, catchment management, en-

ergy, climate change and local authorities as well as those with an interest in exploring the potentials of using willows, mainly as landscape interventions and mitigation of runoff pollution, but also how SRC can contribute to the sustainable energy, bioresources and climate change challenges.

The event was opened by Mr Michael McGarvey, Director of

Services at Donegal County Co-uncil and the project introduced by Mr Con McLaughlin, EU Catch-mentCARE Project Manager. A number of presentations were then given outlining the problem of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and agriculture’s role in meeting environmental objectives to set the scene.

In recent decades there has been a strong research focus on the multifunctional benefits of willows. Chris Johnston, project leader at the Agri-food and Biosciences Institute in Northern Ireland (AFBI), who has much expertise in sustainable waste water management using willows, provided the audience with information from the recent research and commercial schemes currently in operation.

He stated that “catchments on the island of Ireland are suffering as a result of agricultural diffuse as well as societal point source pollution, and so this conference exploring the potential benefits of SRC willow is timely”.

He went on to say that “with the goal of achieving a net zero carbon future, it is opportune that nature based solutions such as SRC willow, which can integrate with landscapes and ecosystems, are being considered for deployment to mitigate growing environmental pressures.”

The event confirmed the under-standing that biomass crops, if implemented properly in our agricultural landscape, can not only provide sustainable waste management and environmental protection, but can also contribute significantly to a more biodiverse and net zero carbon future while underpinning rural biomass supply chains, agricultural diversification and SME development and em-ployment benefits.

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