HL Deb 01 February 1982 vol 426 cc1194-5WA
Lord Stanley of Alderley

asked Her Majesty's Government:

  1. (a) What progress has been made by the Long Ashton Research Station on the willow as a potential source of energy and fuel;
  2. (b) What progress has been made by the Long Ashton Research Station on the willow as a useful habitat for wild life, particularly insects and birds; and
  3. (c)What alternative facilities will be offered to the willow unit at Long Ashton Research Station should the Agricultural Research Council decide to close that section.

Lord Elton

(a) Long Ashton Research Station (LARS) has been investigating and encouraging new uses for willow for many years and has built up an extensive collection of willow varieties. Aspects of willow research relevant to its potential use as a source of pulp, energy and fuel were expanded after the increase in fossil fuel costs in 1973, but they have always formed a minor part of the overall willow programme, which has latterly concentrated on providing better windbreaks for horticulturalists. In 1980–81 LARS was successful in obtaining a total of £16,000 from British Petroleum Limited, the International Energy Agency and the Irish National Peat Corporation to support the willow collection and to advise on willows for biomass. In spring 1981 a trial, sponsored by the Forestry Commission under contract to the Department of Energy, was established at Long Ashton to compare the production of willow and other tree species.

All results from existing trials have been published in a LARS review Coppice Willows for Biomass in the UK presented at the 1st EEC Conference on Energy from Biomass in November 1980. (A copy of this review has been placed in the Library.) Broadly, these results show that several willow varieties have a potential to produce 10–15 tonnes of dry matter per hectare each year.

(b) Work at LARS has concentrated on the economic uses of willow rather than willow ecosystems. Nevertheless, the flora, insect and fungal pathogens of commercial willow beds and of certain willows themselves have been studied. LARS has also freely given advice to conservation groups on how to maintain willows as suitable environments for endangered species, notably the marsh warbler. More recently there has been increasing recognition of the value of willow coppice as a favourable environment for game birds. Increasingly in the last five years LARS has advised the Game Conservancy on the selection of suitable willows to incorporate in their schemes for estate improvement.

(c) The council have taken no decisions on closures at Long Ashton or elsewhere and are engaged in wide consultations on their present proposals. If the closure proposals were agreed, I understand that there would be discussions with outside bodies who currently sponsor work on willows and other topics about the possibility of those bodies continuing to support small units at LARS to work on problems of direct relevance to the sponsors on a full economic cost basis. The council would also explore the possibility of transferring LARS' responsibility for the willow collection to other organisations.