Activists call for a block on biofuel stations in bid to protect forests

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ENVIRONMENTALISTS have called for a block on biofuel power stations in Scotland to avert the destruction of African forests.

Friends of the Earth Scotland said proposed projects on the west and east coasts should not go ahead because of the potential environmental damage, branding the developed world's approach as a "neo-colonial land grab".

The environmental campaign group has released research that looked at 11 African countries and found at least five million hectares of land - an area the size of Denmark - is being acquired by foreign companies to produce biofuels mainly for the European market.

The report, Africa: Up for Grabs, detailed local communities having their land taken with few safeguards for local land rights. Forests and natural vegetation are being cleared, and biofuels are competing with food crops for farmland, said the report.

The Scottish Government said biofuel plants were necessary to reduce the country's carbon emissions, and planting trees in Scotland would produce more local biomass options.

But Duncan McLaren, Friends of the Earth Scotland chief executive, said: "This research shows how the rich world's demand for biofuels has triggered a neo-colonial land grab in Africa.

"Current proposals for massive imports of woody biomass into the UK to generate electricity, such as those in Scotland by Ayrshire Power at Hunterston and Forth Ports in Edinburgh and Dundee, risk fuelling a similar rush to annex African forests.

"The Scottish Government should reject Scottish proposals to import biomass for electricity production. Even more land will be required for biofuels if the European Union is to reach its target of 10 per cent of transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020, according to the research."

Forth Energy said it will continue to push plans for the Leith Docks biomass venture, refusing to scale back the size of the plant. It will be dominated by a 100-metre smoke stack and will process up to 1.3 million tonnes of material a year.Government ministers, local SNP councillors and ministers, city council leaders and environmental groups all oppose the 360 million plant, which would be fuelled by woodchip shipped in from as far afield as the United States.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government is firmly committed to renewable energy, and biomass energy plants have a part to play in helping meet our ambitious targets for renewable heat and power.

"Forestry Commission Scotland are examining all aspects of wood supply to ensure we can meet the biomass demand."

Ayrshire Power, who are developing a biomass plant at Hunterston, did not return requests for comment last night.

Calum Wilson, managing director of Forth Energy, said: "Forth Energy is committed to using only sustainably sourced fuel in its proposed renewable energy plants and to a fuel procurement process that maintains high standards on environment, social and economic grounds."