Biomass in the UK economy


Under current production and consumption conditions the United Kingdom cannot produce sufficient biomass to meet the national demand for food, timber products or bioenergy. Analysis of the flow of biomass through the UK economy indicates that one third of the biomass material utilised by the UK is imported.


The UK economy has shown long term growth since 1990 with a corresponding increase in imports. UK economic growth is dependent on imported raw materials and the environmental impact of continued economic growth is likely to be felt overseas. The high volume of biomass imports for food, construction and bioenergy use makes it clear that we are drawing on significant amounts of primary production from overseas ecosystems. Forecasts for the future use of biomass for food, biofuels and the production of heat and power suggest this dependence will continue to increase.


Import profiling provides an insight into the key dependencies of the UK economy on overseas biomass production. It also forms the basis for quantifying and qualifying the pressures that are being exerted by the UK economy on overseas ecosystems through our biomass consumption, in particular through the use of overseas land.

UK domestic biomass production and imports 1970 - 2008




UK domestic biomass production and imports 1970 - 2008

Data from Office for National Statistics










JNCC’s ongoing work on the source, nature and impacts of the UK’s use of imported biomass has reached some basic conclusions:


  • food chain materials (for human or animal consumption) represent 60% of biomass imports. European Union partners supply 60% of UK biomass imports. A significant proportion (approximately 27%) are sourced from tropical and sub-tropical countries;
  • approximately 14 million hectares of overseas land was required to produce the 52 million tonnes of biomass imported in 2008. This complements the 20 million hectares of domestic land producing biomass.  Approximately 90% of the overseas land use requirement arises from provision of agricultural products for food and from forest products. The remaining 10% is from bioenergy crops;
  • material flow analysis allows the pressure exerted by UK biomass consumption on overseas ecosystems to be estimated in terms of land use. These pressures are currently being felt primarily in the boreal forest and temperate forest biomes of Europe and the temperate grasslands and tropical moist forests of South America;
  • the UK, as a significant importer of biomass will continue to contribute to global pressures on these biomes through population and economic growth, and changing patterns of biomass consumption. Material flow analysis offers an opportunity to monitor these pressures and provides the evidence for the formulation of policies to avoid or mitigate potential impacts on the overseas ecosystems which provide the UK with essential biomass.