Potential impacts on ecosystem services of land use transitions to second-generation bioenergy crops in GB

Suzanne Milner, Robert A. Holland, Andrew Lovett, Gilla Sunnenberg, Astley Hastings, Pete Smith, Shifeng Wang, Gail Taylor

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We present the first assessment of the impact of land use change (LUC) to second-generation (2G) bioenergy crops on ecosystem services (ES) resolved spatially for Great Britain (GB). A systematic approach was used to assess available evidence on the impacts of LUC from arable, semi-improved grassland or woodland/forest, to 2G bioenergy crops, for which a quantitative ‘threat matrix’ was developed. The threat matrix was used to estimate potential impacts of transitions to either Miscanthus, short-rotation coppice (SRC, willow and poplar) or short-rotation forestry (SRF). The ES effects were found to be largely dependent on previous land uses rather than the choice of 2G crop when assessing the technical potential of available biomass with a transition from arable crops resulting in the most positive effect on ES. Combining these data with constraint masks and available land for SRC and Miscanthus (SRF omitted from this stage due to lack of data), south-west and north-west England were identified as areas where Miscanthus and SRC could be grown, respectively, with favourable combinations of economic viability, carbon sequestration, high yield and positive ES benefits. This study also suggests that not all prospective planting of Miscanthus and SRC can be allocated to agricultural land class (ALC) ALC 3 and ALC 4 and suitable areas of ALC 5 are only minimally available. Beneficial impacts were found on 146 583 and 71 890 ha when planting Miscanthus or SRC, respectively, under baseline planting conditions rising to 293 247 and 91 318 ha, respectively, under 2020 planting scenarios. The results provide an insight into the interplay between land availability, original land uses, bioenergy crop type and yield in determining overall positive or negative impacts of bioenergy cropping on ecosystems services and go some way towards developing a framework for quantifying wider ES impacts of this important LUC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-333
Number of pages17
JournalGlobal Change Biology Bioenergy
Issue number2
Early online date8 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • biofuel crops
  • ecological processes
  • ecosystem services
  • GIS
  • land use
  • Miscanthus
  • short-rotation coppice
  • short-rotation forestry
  • sustainability
  • trade-offs

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