Conservationists are working with the Government to investigate how to create energy from nature reserves, including the RSPB’s flagship reserve in Suffolk, at Minsmere.
Wetlands are home to a broad range of species from bitterns and swans to water voles and dragonflies, and managing them for wildlife results in large amounts of waste organic material.
But a new project is looking at how the latest technology can be used to turn reeds and rushes destined for the bonfire into heat and electricity.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change is funding a competition, which is being trialled on nature reserves across the UK.
As part of the competition entrants were challenged to design and deliver the complete process from wetland harvest through to the creation of bioenergy.
Material that has previously been cut away and simply wasted is now being used to produce energy.
The project will be demonstrated at RSPB Minsmere on Wednesday 12 and Thursday 13 February.
The demonstration will see reeds cut using a mechanical cutter – one of only two in the UK – and turned into briquettes which can be burned in a boiler or log burner. The reeds will also be added to an anaerobic digestion machine producing methane, which can be converted into both heat and electricity.
Sally Mills, project manager, said, “Nature reserves like Minsmere are carefully managed to create the ideal habitat for wildlife, and part of this involves cutting back reeds and rushes. Wetland birds and insects need to have a patchwork of habitats from reeds, to shallow pools and short grass in order to nest and feed.
“Across the UK conservation organisations produce thousands of tonnes of waste plant matter. In the past disposing of this waste has been a real issue – often we are forced to simply burn it on bonfires.
“Using some pretty impressive technology… We have shown that we can take cleared wetland vegetation and use it to heat nearby buildings and produce electricity which can be fed into the National Grid.”
For more information about renewable energy and how it can work for you, visit the Energy Saving Trust website.