SRA Annual Report 2019-20: Wetland biomass feasibility study
“Greater resilience to climate and economic change”
One of the aims of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan is to facilitate “better management of the most vulnerable and challenging parts of the Somerset Levels, with the consent of owners and occupiers, with the intent of helping them to remain profitable and build greater resilience to climate and economic change.”
This ambition feeds into many different parts of the SRA’s work, particularly into the Wetland biomass feasibility study and Adapting the Levels.
Wetland biomass feasibility study
‘Biomass’ means natural material that can be used as fuel. In the specific context of the Somerset Levels & Moors and Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan, it means wetland products such as reeds and rushes harvested from hard-to-farm areas of high environmental value.
Early versions of the Flood Action Plan called for the increased use of wetland biomass to be explored, for two main reasons.
Firstly, to create an economic incentive for wetlands to remain wet, as a buffer against flooding.
Secondly, to preserve and possibly enhance and expand environments for wildlife.
In 2015-2016, the SRA and RSPB funded an initial study into the possibilities of establishing a wetland biomass-to-bioenergy scheme on the Somerset Levels, based primarily in the Brue catchment, but also potentially around West Sedgemoor, Aller Moor and King’s Sedgemoor.
In 2019-20, to establish whether wetland biomass is a realistic commercial proposition, the SRA has been funding a real-life case study, centred on the possible installation of a boiler using wetland biomass in Somerset County Council’s highways depot at Dunball north of Bridgwater. Issues covered have included the technical and economic efficiency of biomass, possible subsidies and how to handle ash and waste.
If this study shows that wetland biomass is commercially viable, then it could lead gradually to the creation of new businesses and jobs on the Somerset Levels. Other benefits could include giving landowners a diversified income and offering Somerset a local alternative fuel.