WILWATER - To demonstrate the effectiveness as well as the environmental and economic interest to promote in Europe the culture of short rotation coppices of willow accordingly to the Breton context of reconquest the water quality

LIFE04 ENV/FR/000320

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Bernard POIRIER
Tel: +33 2 99 54 63 15
Email: info@aile.asso.fr

Project description:


Sludge is applied to agricultural land because of its agronomic properties. Although regulatory provisions and codes of practice aim to reduce related risks, there are concerns that this practice could result in heavy metals entering the human food chain and could negatively affect the quality of the water supply.

Treatment for discharges from urban waste water treatment exist but they are often too expensive for small municipalities. Water used for the abstraction of drinking water shall be protected from eventual pollution.

Short rotation coppices of willow (SRC) are a potential answer to these problems. Wastewater rich in nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, and which has already been through lagoonage and wastewater treatment, can be applied to land used for willow coppicing, which is efficient for removing nutrients and other waste elements.


The WILWATER project aimed to demonstrate the effectiveness in environmental and cost terms of short rotation coppices of willow (SRC) as a bio-filter for treatment of wastewater or safer utilization of sewage sludge and as a tool to limit accidental pollution close to lagoonage installations and drinking water collecting wells.

The project further aimed to introduce SRC on a sufficiently large scale for evaluation of plantation, care and harvest operations, and to demonstrate positive environmental impacts, such as on flora, fauna and CO2 emissions.


Short rotation coppices of willow were planted on 20 sites, equalling a total of 100 ha. Each site was evaluated and the impacts measured. Except for few sites, most of the expected environmental results were achieved:

  • The purification capacity of the willow SRC: Nitrate and phosphorous were reduced to acceptable levels in accordance to European legislation on urban residual water. The willows completely absorbed the effluents as demonstrated by their absence from the drain installed on each site used for irrigation.
  • The buffer zone for the drinking water preservation : The expected outcome in terms of water quality improvement were reached.
  • The spread of wastewater treatment plant sludge: While this effect could not be measured over the short monitoring duration of the project, the beneficiary expects that an appropriate quantity of sludge spreading on willow SRC should reduce environmental impacts thanks to its perennial root system. Knowing the maximum intake by the willow should prevent over-fertilisation and reduce water pollution.
  • The possibility of tertiary treatment of pollution: satisfactory results were achieved due to the high evapotranspiration capacities and perennial root system of willow SRC
  • The use of willow SRC as biomass: A productivity of 8 to 12 t of dry matter per hectare a year can be reached, equalling approximately 40 MWh ha/year. The sustainability and continuation of the project’s outcomes is relatively assured. The willow site should remain unaltered, and the results will strengthen over time. The goal is to increase a network of willow SRC sites in Brittany in order to reduce the current running costs of the material.
  • Other willow SRC initiatives are planned following the WILWATER model. The beneficiary is expected to be involved in the setting up of these sites. The project developed guides that are useful for the transfer of the project, and many private farmers, communities and industrials have already expressed an interest.

    However, implementing a willow SRC project will strongly depend on the sites, the possible synergy with other stakeholders with a complementary interest, the economic and political context. The willow SRC represents a vast amount of work and heavy investment. The WILWATER project points out the possibilities for optimisation of the system.

    Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section). This project has been selected as one of the 17 "Best" LIFE Environment projects in 2008-2009.


Environmental issues addressed:


Water - Waste water treatment
Industry-Production - Agriculture - Forestry


agricultural method‚  water quality improvement‚  waste water treatment

Target EU Legislation

  • Water
  • Directive 91/676 - Protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural so ...

Natura 2000 sites

Not applicable



Coordinator AILE
Type of organisation NGO-Foundation
Description AILE, a local energy agency, was created in 1995 as part of the Save Europe Programme of the Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Energie and by Coopérative d'utilisation du Matériel Agricole. AILE focuses on energy savings and environment issues in agricultural areas of western France.
Partners Université de Louvain-Laboratoire d'Ecologie des Grandes Cultures, Belgium Commune de Pleyber Christ, France Commune de Saint Segal, France Institut pour le Développement Forestier, France Chambre Régionale d'Agriculture de Bretagne, France Coopérative Utilisation du Matériel Agricole Breizh Energie, France Communuauté de Commune Coglais, France Syndicat Intercommunal pour la réalisation et le fonctionnement d'une STation d'EPUration à l'ouest de Rennes, France Ferme de Kerlavic, France Commune de Scaër, France Mairie de Saint Calais, France Syndicat Intercommunal d'assainissement d'Hennebont-Inzinzac-Lochrist, France EARL Les Pépinières Nicolandes, France SAS de Trébéolin LT Coop, France Syndicat Mixte Intercommunal de Réalisation et de Gestion pour l'Elimination des Ordures Ménagères du secteur Est de la Sarthe (SMIRGEOMES), France SAS Société Nouvelle LIOGEL, France SIFDDA, France Commune d'Yvias, France Commune de Saint Ebremont de Bonfossé, France Mairie de Saint Gilles, France Exploitation Morin, France Exploitation Jean Pierre DUVAL, France


Project reference LIFE04 ENV/FR/000320
Duration 01-JUL-2004 to 31-DEC -2007
Total budget 2,202,400.00 €
EU contribution 770,352.00 €
Project location Bretagne(France)


Read more:

Brochure "De la production d’énergie renouvelable à la valorisation d’effluents pré-traités - 100 hectares de Taillis à Très Courte Rotation de Saule dans le Grand Ouest" (3.4 MB)
Project web site Project web site
Publication: After-LIFE Communication Plan After-LIFE Communication plan (35 KB)
Publication: Article-Paper Impacts environnementaux des TTCR.
Publication: Article-Paper Bilan sur la culture des TTCR de saule.
Publication: Article-Paper Wilwater Programme Update on SRWC cropping.
Publication: Article-Paper Etude économique et potentiel de développement des ...
Publication: Article-Paper Study of the economics and development potential o ...
Publication: Article-Paper Le rôle épuratoire des Taillis à Très Courte Rotat ...
Publication: Article-Paper Purification function of Short Rotation Willow Cop ...
Publication: Book De la production d’énergie renouvelable à la valor ...
Publication: Layman report Layman report (EN)
Publication: Layman report Layman report (540 KB)


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version