Managing habitats for wildlife is no easy task, although grounded by research, monitoring and science; it always feels it would be so much easier if wildlife could talk. The balance of tussocky vegetation to the finer grasses in a wet grassland site is crucial to securing breeding wading birds. For instance lapwing like a short, tight sward and clear open areas, so they can see predators approaching, whereas redshank like a little structure and some tussocks in which they can build their nest and hide from predators– striking the balance can be a challenge. Achieving the desired structure usually involves a combination of cattle grazing and mechanical harvesting of the material that is unpalatable and left by the animals, which are typically the tussocks!
Wet grasslands can be very site specific in terms of their make-up, determined by substrate, water quality, geographical location, but the majority face a battle with domineering tussocky vegetation such as soft rush, (Juncus Effusus). The wet, splashy conditions are ideal for the spread of such species and year and after year their presence needs to be controlled. As low nutrient systems, if cut it is important that this material is removed. Already dismissed by the cattle and with poor absorption qualities once harvested this material has little value as feed or bedding and even with soaring hay prices is not considered an alternative.
Alongside common reed (Phragmites Australis), soft rush is the other species under consideration as potential feedstock as part of the Wetland Biomass to Bioenergy Project. Like reed it too poses challenges in its conversion into energy and the development of the new technologies are being undertaken with these in mind.
Like a number of wetland bird species, breeding waders in many areas are in decline, often due to management issues, loss of habitat or unsuitable water levels, which are getting harder to maintain with the extremes in weather conditions being experienced across the UK in recent times. To counteract the pressures such wildlife experiences being able to maximise the effect of management work is important and turning the biomass into bioenergy, resolves one of the biggest hurdles, which is the disposal of material.
With approximately 300,000 hectares of wet grassland under conservation management and demonstrated to generate between 4.3 and 1.4 oven dried tonnes per hectare, (depending on density), as is the case with reedbeds, the amounts of material that could be produced are not insignificant.