The benefits of growing willow coppice for a power station were explained to a group of farmers last week.

Mike and Rita Corrigan are growing short rotation coppice on around a third of their 230 acres at Eastfields Farm, Nunthorpe, Middlesbrough.

The fast-growing willow is being grown to generate electricity at the Sembcorp biomass power station just six miles away at Wilton.

The couple hosted a visit organised by the Barnard Castle-based Tyne Tees Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG).

Mr and Mrs Corrigan have owned Eastfields for eight years and planted three 25 acre sections of short rotation coppice (src) over consecutive years.

They harvested their first crop of SRC in January. The wood chip is currently stacked and drying ready to go to Wilton.

It is anticipated the yield will be worth around £12,500 dry weight, but substantially larger yields are expected in future years as coppiced stools produce increased numbers of shoots.

After the visit Jennie Stafford, Tyne Tees FWAG farming adviser, said: "Our members were privileged to visit a farm with four years experience of growing willow and their first harvest completed.

"It was also good to see the willow providing a habitat for the flourishing wildlife.

"Capital money for planting and fencing is available through the Energy Crop Scheme to assist with the establishment costs.

"The benefit of this fast growing form of willow as an additional source of income is one that some farmers are considering, particularly if they have land and circumstances that require a low maintenance crop."

Mr Corrigan said they had found growing coppice to be a positive experience.

He said: "The market is already there and it's definitely something that farmers should investigate if they are thinking about diversification.

"I consider I have the correct balance of SRC willow to other crops for my situation."

Kenny Crooks, of the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust (TVWT), has carried out a comprehensive bird survey on the farm and outlined the environmental spin off benefits of SRC.

He said: "There has been a dramatic increase in insect and bird life especially snipe, woodcock, lapwings and reed bunting as well as pipistrelle and long eared bats and three species of owl.

"To hear them calling and see the mating displays at dusk is really something." Ends.