Creating a buzz around solar
Jessica Thimbleby, Carbon Reduction Champion, visits WWCE's Braydon Manor solar park
As the name suggests, Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy is a community solar project set up with the objective of delivering renewable energy while increasing wildlife across Wiltshire. Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of visiting WWCE’s largest 5MW solar farm at Braydon Manor up in north Wiltshire. The former brownfield site would have remained barren had the community energy group not transformed it with its solar arrays, creating a haven for nature and delivering far-reaching community benefits.
I had been to the site earlier in the spring and was greeted by a buzzard taking off, but it was a revelation as I returned on a sunny morning at the end of June. My trip this time coincided with a grassland survey being carried out to monitor the difference that a change in the grass-cutting regime had brought about. The new schedule had seen cuts reduced to twice annually, in April and September and was influenced by advice from Wiltshire Wildlife Trust on how to increase native wildflowers and grasses. The ground around the panels was also seeded with wildflower seeds from one of the Trust reserves a couple of years ago to help build up the stock of flower and grass seeds in the soil.
I was accompanied by Ellie Dodson, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s Digital Communications Officer and budding wildlife photographer to capture the flora and fauna we encountered. This time as we arrived it was a hare that loped off further into the solar panels. The grass had grown, and wildflowers were flourishing – we saw great purple clumps of common knapweed and plentiful patches of red and white clover, bird’s foot trefoil, ragwort and ox eye daisy among others. Along the hedgerow, a beautiful cluster of tufted vetch and a patch of marsh woundwort were a delight.
We saw many bees enjoying the increased variety of nectar on offer and harvesting pollen. I’d never seen so many marble white butterflies in one place and we noticed delicate meadow brown, tortoiseshell, several skipper and even comma butterflies. Carrie the ecologist spotted a cinnabar moth, no doubt having enjoyed feasting as caterpillars on the ragwort (with the result that the distinctive orange and black striped caterpillars are poisonous).
Numerous grass species including meadow foxtail, rye grass and Yorkshire fog were growing among the solar panels. As we waded through the grass at the edge of the panels, crickets appeared and disappeared in an instant as Ellie attempted and succeeded to capture one on camera. The abundance and variety we witnessed is evidence of the transformation that can occur rapidly when a community solar site is managed to benefit wildlife.
Braydon Manor is just one great example of how solar energy can be produced while also increasing biodiversity. But encouraging a wider variety of insects – the planet’s most important creatures - and the plants they love is something we can repeat at home in our gardens and even on our windowsills. Let your grass grow long and let the wild in, or set up a nectar café by planting flowers attractive to bees and pollinators.
These Wildlife Trust pages have lots of tips to help and give nature a boost in whatever space you have, and you’ll find a whole host of activities to try here with the RSPB. There’s lots more information on the Take Action for Insects campaign pages, too. We want to inspire more Wiltshire communities to think about how they can encourage native wildlife to flourish on their doorstep, so get started today and help us deliver less carbon, more wildlife in Wiltshire…