New guidance to turn solar farms into biodiversity hotspots

Expert BRE National Solar Centre Guidance is launched today at Kew Gardens with The National Trust, RSPB, Plantlife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Eden Project, Buglife, Wychwood Biodiversity & Wiltshire Wildlife Trust

Expert guidance on how to optimise biodiversity on solar farms will be launched today at Kew Gardens by the BRE National Solar Centre (BRE NSC) [1]. The guidance has been authored by ecologist Dr Guy Parker in partnership with leading UK conservation groups 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 plant life. Many species benefit from the diversity of light and shade that the solar arrays provide, including bumble bees. One of the case studies in the study features a partnership by Solarcentury and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to boost bumblebee populations, which have been in significant decline in recent years.

The guidance 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 maximising this potential and explains a very wide range of habitat enhancements, from beetle banks to winter food planting for birds.

Jonny Williams, Associate Director of the BRE NSC, said:

"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."

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director of the National Trust, who is speaking at the launch, said:

"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 but they must be developed in harmony with the landscape.

"We are keen to work with and encourage the solar industry to do more to help protect the wildlife and landscapes that we love forever, and this biodiversity guidance is a fantastic tool for doing that."

Harry Huyton, Head of Climate Change at RSPB, said:

"The recent IPCC reports show that unless we change our energy systems, climate change threatens to drive the loss of wildlife here in the UK and globally. The IPCC are also clear that solar power has a huge role to play, so it is particularly satisfying to see solar energy developers pledging to deliver clean energy and nature conservation hand-in-hand. The RSPB is keen to see all solar developers following this Guidance, which will mean sensitively sited solar farms giving a home to farmland birds and wildlife that are in desperate need of a helping hand."

Research by the guide's author Dr Guy Parker shows that biodiversity can be greatly enhanced on solar farms compared to arable farm land, in particular bumblebees and butterflies:

"As an ecologist I've become very interested in the potential to use solar farms to boost biodiversity. I conducted some preliminary research on 4 sites which demonstrated a significant increase in the monitored species as compared to surrounding farmland."

STA CEO Paul Barwell said:

"Our 10 Commitments set out the direction of travel for the solar farm industry, which is to deliver multiple benefits, not only for the climate, but for the British countryside. There is huge enthusiasm amongst our membership to turn solar farms into an even greater force for environmental good by providing safe and protected spaces for our vulnerable and declining wildlife and plant species. We very much look forward to seeing partnerships blossom between conservation groups and our members."

Around 2.5GW of solar farms have already been delivered in the UK. The new guidance will help to encourage more interest in the development of solar farms not only for renewable energy generation but also for the biodiversity benefits which will protect and enhance UK wildlife and plant life for future generations.

The STA wants to see around 10GW of solar farms 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 BRE 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.

The full report, ‘Biodiversity Guidance for Solar Developments' is available to download now at:
solar-trade.org.uk/media/140428%20STA%20BRENSC%20Biodiversity%20Gudelines%20Final.pdf

Photographs of solar farms and wild plant life, as well as benefiting species are available on request.

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