Solar parks offer the perfect symmetry - clean energy and a home for nature
As the climate crisis intensifies and the need to increase production of clean, renewable energy grows, so the issue of whether solar and nature can exist harmoniously has been pushed to the fore. For our current Government, busy rowing back on net zero commitments, this issue is an unwanted distraction. For WWCE, whose mission is to reduce carbon at the same time as improving outcomes for nature, it is essential.
Poorly informed comment is made by local MPs like James Gray, who opposes solar developments on the basis of what he sees as the negative effects they can have on wildlife. He could not be more misinformed. With careful design, considered siting, and low-intensity management solar installations can in fact deliver huge benefits to local ecology.
A report from Solar Energy UK - drawing on a national survey spearheaded by author Hollie Blaydes, who previously visited WWCE’s Braydon Manor site to inform research into pollinators on solar farms – found that wildlife can positively thrive on solar farms. Before that, a 2016 paper found that solar farms tended to have more species of plant, insect, and bird than equivalent farm fields, while even earlier research from 2013 revealed that one surveyed solar farm had greater numbers of butterflies and bees than surrounding farmland. The body of evidence is growing, demonstrating that, by providing a variety of habitats, solar farms are raising the numbers of some of the UK’s most threatened species, while helping to drive us toward net zero.
At WWCE, as you might expect given our moniker, we manage our sites with wildlife front of mind. Working in collaboration with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, we are focused on conserving and promoting biodiversity in Wiltshire, and we do that by implementing measures such as reducing use of herbicides, providing an array of appealing environments – including trees, hedgerows, grasslands, reptile, insect, and bird habitats - and ensuring seasonal grazing for sheep as opposed to year-round.
To further aid our understanding of what’s working and what we can do better, ecologists from WWT have recently assessed biodiversity at Chelworth and conducted baseline habitat surveys both there and at Braydon. The Chelworth study confirmed that our land management approach is working – we’re providing homes for a range of wildlife, including protected and endangered bird species, and having a positive impact on endangered brown hairstreak butterfly populations. In terms of mammals, brown hares - also a species of conservation concern – have been spotted on our solar parks, which supports the Solar Energy UK report’s findings that they also offer the ‘ideal habitat’ for this declining species.
Far from being threats to wildlife, then solar farms like ours have been proven to offer safe havens for an abundance of species when managed correctly – helping to address and reverse biodiversity loss in the UK, tackle climate change, and improve the country’s energy security. We’re committed to continuously reviewing and improving our land management plans to ensure we can protect nature today, and preserve the planet for tomorrow…
Julian Barlow, chair of Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy