Photo above: Protesters gather at the port from where trains carrying wood pellets travel along the line to Selby, Credit: Don Naylor
Katy Brown reports on August’s day of action to ‘Axe Drax’ as campaigners in Liverpool and across the North make the reasonable demand that trees be left in the ground.
Protests were held on Friday at Liverpool Port as part of a coordinated action across 10 locations in the North to highlight the problems associated with the biomass industry and Drax power station. Drax claims that it burns ‘sustainable biomass’, however just a little digging below the surface reveals that Drax is the single biggest emitter of CO2 in the UK and its wood pellet burning is in fact decimating biodiverse wetland forests in the Southern US. Vast quantities of these wood pellets are imported via the port of Liverpool.
A variety of actions took place along the route, from Liverpool to Selby. Here in Liverpool the day of action started with a community bike ride from Rimrose Valley Country Park to Potters Barn Park, near the port, where the public were engaged. One port worker came and spoke of the terrible health problems associated with the dust from the wood pellet handling at the port, and how the dust spreads out beyond the port to affect the wider community, as well as complaining of the poor health and safety record at the port generally.
A group cycled from there to stage a banner protest at the entrance to the docks, from where the train track the wood pellets are transported along is visible. Unusually, today’s train consisted of unadorned grey wagons, instead of the usual brightly painted trains advertising their contents: it seems with the spotlight on it Drax is not so keen to promote its involvement with forest destruction.
Sally Clark, campaigner with Biofuelwatch said: “It is shocking that Drax PLC claims that its trains are carrying ‘sustainable biomass’ and that it is ‘powering tomorrow’ when it is the single biggest emitter of CO2 in the UK and its tree burning is devastating forests, harming wildlife, polluting communities and making the climate crisis worse. The company is now planning to make its climate impacts even worse by building the UK’s largest ever fossil gas power station. Drax’s huge renewable subsidies of over £2 million per day to burn trees must be stopped now and redirected to create green jobs in low-carbon renewables such as wind and solar power.”
There is added concern here in Liverpool, in that the port’s planned expansion is threatening Rimrose Valley Country Park. The port’s rail freight capacity is heavily occupied by the transport of wood pellets to be burned at Drax, when this freight capacity could and should be freed up for moving other things, thus reducing the claimed need for road expansion associated with the port. Air pollution from the port is of grave concern to those living locally. Halting the rail transportation of wood pellets would not only help address the global issue of climate change but also enable some of the HGVs which currently carry port freight – a major source of severe air and noise pollution for those living near the port – to be taken off the roads.
Ms Kate Elder Fuller, Save Rimrose Valley campaigner said: “The practice of chopping down healthy trees to make pellets in the USA and importing these to the UK to be burned is just about as unsustainable as it gets. Peel Ports are sitting back and waiting for the Government to build them a road for their HGVs, through a vital country park, destroying more trees in the process. This is what we’re fighting and it’s one of the reasons the Save Rimrose Valley campaign supports the calls to Axe Drax. Big businesses literally bulldoze their way through our green spaces, harming the environment and impacting people’s lives. It has to stop.”
Drax’s ecologically destructive behaviour impacts communities both here at home in the North and abroad. The wood pellet production mills in the Southern US cause air, noise and water pollution for local communities: low income, black and indigenous communities are disproportionately affected1, similarly here in Liverpool these imports cause air pollution with negative impacts on the communities living nearby – life expectancy rates in near the port are much lower than other parts of Sefton, the local borough2, 3. Over the Pennines in Selby the burning of the pellets at Drax Power Station churns smoke out and over the surrounding area releasing 13 million tonnes of CO2 per year4. Despite this, in 2019 Drax received £789.5 million in renewable subsidies coming straight from our energy bills5. As Drax desperately makes false claims about the green credentials of biomass its true colours are further revealed by its plans to build Europe’s biggest ever fossil gas power station.
The AxeDrax campaign, which co-ordinated the day of action, is demanding: that the government removes the subsidies for Drax’s biomass burning, transferring them to genuine renewables; that its gas power station plans are halted; and that Drax stops making false sustainability claims about its biomass burning. To contact your MP to demand an end to biomass subsidies visit the Cut Carbon Not Forests campaign website https://www.cutcarbonnotforests.org/ You can learn more about biomass from the Biofuelwatch website https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/