The guidance has been authored by ecologist Dr Guy Parker in partnership with The National Trust, RSPB, Plantlife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Eden Project, Buglife, Wychwood Biodiversity, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and the Solar Trade Association (STA). It urges solar farms to be considered in the context of existing designated habitats and corridors to help improve the overall network of spaces for wildlife and is aimed primarily at planners, ecologists, developers, clients and landowners.
The guidance also outlines the options for maximising the potential at solar farm sites by explaining how to develop a very wide range of habitat enhancements, from beetle banks to winter food planting for birds. Solar farms typically take up less than 5 percent of the land they are on leaving huge scope to develop protected habitats to support local wildlife and plantlife. Many species benefit from the diversity of light and shade that the solar arrays provide.
One of the case studies included in the guidance features a partnership by Solarcentury and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to boost bumblebee populations, which have been in significant decline in recent years due to more intensive farming practices.
“Solar farms are already the most popular form of local energy development but their potential to protect British wildlife is attracting huge interest” said Jonny Williams, Associate Director of the BRE NSC. “The BRE NSC has been working to define best practice for solar farms and we have developed this specific biodiversity guidance to help conservation groups, communities, solar developers and planners deliver great results for nature.”
Patrick Begg of the National Trust added that new renewable sources of energy such as solar farms are vital if the UK is to generate the low carbon clean energy that is needed to power the nation, but that they must also be developed in tune with the landscape. The National Trust has been keen to work with the solar industry to develop detailed guidance on using solar farms to boost biodiversity, particularly with the release of the 10 Commitments guidelines by the Solar Trade Association (STA) last year. STA CEO Paul Barwell believes there is huge enthusiasm amongst STA members to turn solar farms into an even greater force for environmental good by providing safe and protected spaces for the UK’s vulnerable and declining wildlife and plant species.
“The recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shows that unless we change our energy systems climate change will devastate our countryside” said Harry Huyton of RSPB. “The IPCC are also clear that solar power has a huge role to play. It is particularly satisfying to see clean solar energy being used to protect the species that fossil fuels are putting at risk. The RSPB is keen to work with solar developers to help support farmland birds, numbers of which have declined dramatically.”
Research by the guide’s author Dr Guy Parker shows that solar farms demonstrably increase biodiversity compared to farmed or neglected land. The BRE NSC guide makes clear that monitoring and learning from experience will be essential on solar farms.
The STA wants to see around 10GW by 2020 which would require around 0.1% of UK land, less than the area used for non-food crop like linseed. Existing guidance by the NSC makes clear that conflict with food production should be avoided by using low grade agricultural land and brownfield sites. However, conservation groups are concerned that many agricultural soils are exhausted and intensive agriculture is harming wildlife populations.
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