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Galvanising Youth Interest

October 13, 2016 W4WActivists 0

As the youngest member of the team here at Willow4Wales, it falls to me to inform our slightly older team members about how ‘young’ people engage with us.

It’s really quite the challenge, especially when you consider how little most adult people engage with our issue. For most, the environment, and how we deal with protecting it for the future, is not an emotional issue. It’s an ongoing problem that faces us daily, and something our writers have written on before.

classChildren in England and Wales are, on the whole, well versed in basic environmental practices. They know about the ice caps melting, they understand how to recycle and why it’s better than dumping in landfills – and what’s more they have a firm grasp on renewable energies. Although you may be hard-pressed to find a kid who’s passionate about the environment – you’d be surprised to discover how much of, what we deem to be, specialist knowledge is now second nature the children as young as 8.

Although Wales and England’s younger generations are well versed on the general theories and ideas of environmentalism, their specific knowledge, especially when considering alternative forms of energy such as Biomass Fuels.

It’s not something that us here at W4W hold personally. We are well aware that our cause is a niche one – that’s why we’re focusing on raising awareness for our issue with this website. My challenge now is to somehow re-market our cause into a package that will not only interest young people, but get them actively talking about growing willow coppice for the purpose of Biomass fuel.

Burning Willow, usually in the form of processed pellets, is not a go-to choice for most people when they consider renewable energies.

The concept for most people, especially children, is counter-intuitive.

burnerThe educated kids of today might well know that recycling is good and fossil fuels are bad, but if you ask them if they think burning trees are good for the environment – they’ll probably shake their heads. The notion of burning trees is simply incongruent with an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Getting children to engage with detailed environmental issues is a challenge that can’t be answered by simply creating a questionnaire and sourcing answers from a few thousand kids. The answer, I believe, lies in our choice of medium.

In my home country of South Korea, we have adopted technological advances much more readily than other countries. We’ve got one of the highest broadband subscriber populations (along with one of the biggest ratios of population to broadband subs) in the world. More than half of our 50 million strong population regularly play video games, and competitive ‘e-sports‘ garner a similar level of recognition and reverence that your Premier League Football gets here in the UK.

Why is it that the people of South Korea have got behind video games and internet use so much more other developed countries, to the point where some commentators see video games as a fully developed medium?

pc-bangThe answer lies in the environment. High population concentrations, coupled with limited space, have lead South Koreans to spending a large majority of their leisure time in virtual spaces.

We can’t force information about your cause into school syllabuses and it would be difficult to impress the urgency of our issue into the minds of children who are no doubt dealing with, what they deem to be, more important issues.

It’s up to us to make our issue as relevant and as necessary as video games are to my country folk – there’s a long way to go yet!


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How EU Targets Could Have Paved The Way For Biomass

September 29, 2016 W4WActivists 0

Following on from Lloyd’s piece on the long-term effects of Brexit, we’re going to be taking a look at how European environmental goals could have cemented Biomass fuels as the go-to form of renewable energy.

smog-britain-468085During the mid-90s, the smoky hangover of the 70s and 80s were just about clearing. Britain, and the world at large, were just starting to get wise to the environmental damage that they had been causing the world since the inception of industrialisation.

Over 20 years ago, social awareness for Environmental issues was at a shocking low.

Most Brits still associated a love for the Environment with the liberal, or even communist, tendencies of the Free Love Movement of the 60s and 70s.

In 1994, over a quarter of the country’s adult population smoked, recycling had yet to get to off the ground and there was little or no public awareness of issues such as Climate Change or Global Warming. It was a good thing, then, that the Declaration of Madrid locked the UK into one of the first big EU environmental goals of it’s kind.

With the aim of ensuring that 15% of all energy produced would be from renewable resources come 2010, the UK now had an agreement set in stone, requiring us to actively pursue the research of sustainable resources.

ian-tubbySince Ian Tubby and Alan Armstrong’s defining research, on behalf of the Forestry Commission back in 2002, popularity in diversification for use of Short Rotation Coppice methods has skyrocketed. Within years of this research being released, countries such as Sweden were heavily investing in Biomass production – touting Willow as the ideal crop to focus on.

Tubby and Armstrong took into account nearly 50 sample crops taken from around the UK over the course of several years, and studied closely the increasing biomass output in 6 species of Poplar and Willow trees. They discovered that only a handful of cuttings were needed to produce 2-3 saplings.

Willow varieties grew especially quickly, climbing up to 3m within a year. After experimenting with cutting cycles, the scientists hit upon the optimum growing process to ensure maximum biomass output with as little energy expenditure as possible. This ensures that British wood pellets produced from this process are as energy efficient and clean as possible.

srcAfter a season of growth, the 3m saplings are cut back down to just above ground level. This might limit immediate gains, but encourages the trees to grow more shoots, increasing the eventual yield that the trees will produce. The saplings are left to grow for another 2-4 years until they’ve fully bulked out. This is when the farmer uses specialist machinery to harvest the wood, making sure to leave the stool intact so that it can continue to grow.

These trees are given concurrent 3-year growing periods which can lead to a decade of Biomass production. After 3 or 4 growth cycles the yield of these trees declines – leaving the farmer to replace the trees with new cuttings and start the process again.

The targets and goals, set by the EU over 20 years ago, put Britain on a new path of sustainable practices and changed the way thought about the environment.

We can only hope that post-Brexit Britain will continue to be so forward thinking.




Why Willow?

September 22, 2016 W4WActivists 0

It’s a question we get asked all the time.

The Willow tree is a tree that is respected the world over for it’s stately grace, it’s hardy resilience to the elements and it’s stoic beauty. But why choose it for our campaign brand?

Firstly, from a PR point of view, it sounds pleasant on the ear. The gentle, soft sound of the alliteration of the two ‘Ws’ and the sibilance that links Willows with Wales is pleasant to hear. These factors help maintain our image as a Social Action Discussion Group. We’re not here to angrily protest in the streets, or forcefully thrust flyers into your hands as you walk by on the streets.

Our purpose here as activists, is to raise awareness for the use of Biomass Fuels as an alternative fuel source.

willow-treeBy bringing it to the attention of local Welsh farmers, we can help to transform the landscape here and also bring benefits to the farmers (and local people) that commit to change.

The Willow tree is often taken for granted. It’s reputation as ‘Old Man Willow‘ tars it with the same brush as the stately Oak tree. Laymen assume that it is a slow growing tree and associate it with the stubborn old tees that block planning permission requests. The truth about them couldn’t be further from this assumption.

salicin-2d-skeletalThere’s a great deal of historical data suggesting that Ancient civilisations used the generous supplies of its sap to relieve simple ailments. Native Americans were found to chew the tough twigs and bark, that the tree gives in abundance, in order to soothe headaches and fever.

After research in the the early 19th Century, scientists discovered that they could extract up to 30g of a substance they named salicin from 1.5kg of bark taken from a willow tree. 60 years or so later, at the dawn of the 20th Century, Felix Hoffman (working on behalf of the pharmaceutical company Bayer) developed the sap into a drug called Aspirin.

Today, Aspirin is one of the most highly produced drugs in the World, but salicin found in the sap is still used to create capsules and tea in order to combat anything from tendonitis to simple back pain.

Heritage WillowMalleable yet strong, it’s branches can be woven tightly to create baskets, sofas and rustic decoration. Amongst all these properties, the Willow’s greatest asset is it’s extremely high in-energy out ratio. Much like it’s generous sap supply, the burning of mature Willow trees has been proven to produce a great deal more energy than it takes to grow. Saplings, taken from just a few cuttings, can grow up to 3m tall in their first season alone.

This is why the Willow, along with it’s distant cousin the Poplar, has been selected for use in Energy Forestry Systems, by several Energy Commissions, as one of the best trees to use in the creation of biomass fuels.

A symbol of Mother Nature’s generous spirit, the Willow has helped mankind for centuries.

Given the chance, it could help us for many more.