Land Management and Biodiversity
Biodiversity in the UK continues to decline dramatically due to increasing intensification of agriculture, urbanisation and the impact of chemicals and other pollutants in the environment. Since the 1930s lowland wildflower meadows have declined by 97% and hedges, home to birds and shelter for other types of wildlife, have been ploughed away to create huge fields supporting monoculture crops. Recent research has shown that where land management is carried out with a focus on wildlife, an increase in biodiversity can be seen across a range of plant and animal species. Reflecting our origins and on-going link with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (WWT), one of the core objectives of WWCE is: Advancing, promoting and furthering the conservation, maintenance and long term protection of wildlife and its habitats.
We manage our two main solar sites - Chelworth and Braydon Manor - according to landscape and ecological plans agreed as part of our planning permissions. Our objective is to manage the land at both sites in order to maximise biodiversity of plant and animal life in a way that is consistent with the operational requirements of the solar arrays. At our Braydon Manor site we are working to increase the biodiversity of the grassland between and around panels through the application of ‘green hay’ containing wildflower seeds and we will be monitoring the long-term impact. At the current time we are focussing our biodiversity activities on our Chelworth site. The site is owned and managed for WWCE by WWT. The site is directly adjacent to the WWT Blakehill Farm Nature Reserve where over 140 flowering plant species have been recorded. At over 250ha in size this is the largest area of lowland neutral meadow restoration in the country and at WWCE we are working to make sure that our management of Chelworth is consistent with extending wildlife habitats from the reserve next door.
The main aspects of our land management approach at Chelworth include:
Between and beneath panels and at site margins is managed to create a diverse grassland habitat in order to maximise wildlife benefits including promotion of wildflower species. Grassland is grazed by sheep for part of the year with a buffer zone of tussocky grassland being developed between the outer-most solar arrays and hedgerows to provide a habitat for butterflies, reptiles, small mammals and other invertebrates, and create good foraging grounds for birds of prey including Little Owls that have been recorded on site.
Bird, bat and owl boxes have been installed to encourage nesting and roosting for a range of species.
The site enjoys thick dense hedgerows, in which blackthorn is a major component, but with many other species. The hedgerows are cut (outside nesting season) in rotation once every three years to allow flowering and development of species such as ivy. This cutting regime favours the rare brown hairstreak butterfly that lays its eggs on 1st or 2nd year blackthorn growth. Our most recent ecology report shows that the number of hairstreak eggs observed is increasing.
We are fortunate to have a small pond at one end of the site. The pond and surrounding vegetation is maintained as a reptile and amphibian habitat. Single great crested newts have been recorded in the pond and surrounding the pond and elsewhere on site hibernacula and log/stone piles have been left to provide shelter for
WWCE is one of just four solar farms in the country to be selected to take part in an exciting new beekeeping project. The Solar Bee project, run by the Naturesave Trust, will involve WWCE being the proud recipients of two innovative ‘termosolar’ beehives. The project will help to establish the effectiveness of these hives in protecting bees from the varroa mite as well as introducing new honeybee colonies to the site. We will also be working with WWT to develop additional habitat for other natural pollinators including ground-nesting bees.
Links to Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy Presentations on Biodiversity
Presentation to Westmill Solar
Presentation to WWCE 2018 AGM: