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Modelling landscape impacts of biomass crops on biodiversity

Modelling the Landscape Impacts of Biomass Crops on Biodiversity (Defra project NF0440)

Increasing the production frequency of biomass or bioenergy crops presents a major new challenge for the development of UK agriculture. Little is known, at present, about the impacts on biodiversity of converting land from arable crops or other current uses to the production of biomass crops. The current RELU-biomass project is investigating the impacts of biomass crops on biodiversity at a field or /farm scale, but there is little available information on the impacts of introducing these crops on biodiversity changes across a broader landscape. The predicted increases in the frequency of production of biomass crops over the next 5 to 10 years (up to 1 million hectares in the UK) could result in potentially large impacts on biodiversity, possibly leading to a failure to meet Defra biodiversity targets for a number of key indicator species. There is therefore a need to understand the effects that large-scale production of biomass crops will have on biodiversity at a landscape scale, and to predict the impacts of the introduction of these crops on key indicator species and overall measures of biodiversity at local, regional and national level.

Aim of the project

Existing modelling approaches often use subjective expert opinion to predict biodiversity changes. In contrast, this project will use a modelling framework developed in a previous Defra project to develop a quantitative scientific model to assess the impacts of biomass crops on biodiversity, with specific reference to key indicator species and general measures of biodiversity.


A set of "plausible future" scenarios for the conversion of arable land to biomass crops will be developed in consultation with Defra and key researchers in the area. The scenarios will incorporate a range of potential landscape distributions for up to 1 million hectares of biomass crops, with differing degress of fragmentation of the landscape.

Each of these scenarios will then form the basis of the inputs to the modelling framework which will ask the following questions (dependent upon data availability):

1. What is the current distribution of the key indicator species or habitats?
2. What is the potential distribution of the key indicator species or habitats under the scenario being investigated?
3. Will the species/habitat achieve this potential distribution?
4. Will the species/habitat move to the new habitats and establish a population?

Using the answers to these questions for a range of key indicator species, the predictions generated from the mode will be analysed to assess and identify the impacts that increased production of biomass crops will have on biodiversity, enabling Defra policy to be formulated to mitigate against any adverse effects or enhance any positive effects.

The project will produce a modelling tool and methodology that can be used to address other Defra policy questions relating to the effects of land-use changes on biodiversity, including land-use changes driven by climate change. It will highlight where data needs to be collected to enhance the model predictions and provide a greater understanding of how landscape changes affect biodiversity.

For further information please contact Andrew dot Mead at warwick dot ac dot uk