BRE this week launches guidance on how to optimise biodiversity on solar farms.
The document has been written 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).
Solar farms typically take up less than 5% 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, including bumblebees.
One of the case studies in the guidance document features a partnership by Solarcentury and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to boost bumblebee populations, in significant decline in recent years owing to more intensive farming practices. 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.
The guide, which is aimed at planners, ecologists, developers, clients and landowners, outlines the options for maximizing this potential, and explains a wide range of habitat enhancements, from beetle banks to winter food planting for birds.
Jonny Williams, associate director of the BRE National Solar Centre, says solar farms are already the most popular local energy development but their potential to protect British wildlife is attracting huge interest: ‘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.’
New renewable sources such as solar farms are vital if we are to generate the low carbon, clean energy that we need to power the nation, says Patrick Begg of the National Trust, ‘but they must be developed in tune with the landscape’.
Around 2.5GW of solar farms have already been delivered in the UK. The guidance, BRE and its partners hope, will help to encourage interest in the development of more – not only for renewable energy generation but also for the biodiversity benefits, ‘which will in the long term protect and enhance our wildlife and environment for future generations’.
The STA wants to see around 10GW by 2020 which would require around 0.1% of UK land, less than the area used for a 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.