Wild creatures munching grass and sipping nectar from flowers flourishing on pesticide-free ground beneath solar arrays are the focus of a guide just released by industry advocates Solar Energy UK.

The trade body is launching its guidance on ‘the Natural Capital Value of Solar’, pointing out to developers, farmers and country dwellers the proven contribution of UK solar farms in increasing biodiversity, and at all stages of their lifecycle.

The guide is timed as spring slips now into the British summer, just after the month of April has – as ace poet Geoffrey Chaucer reminds us at the opening of his chart-topping “Canterbury Tales” –

with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in switch licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne“.

Name-checking both the ‘yonge sonne’ and “tendre croppes”, England’s leading medieval wordsmith would still have mourned that, seven centuries after he wrote, a full 60% of British wildlife species have declined since 2019.

Of that share, 15% are left facing extinction, due to factors such as habitat loss and pesticide use.  The figures come from the 2019 State of Nature Report, a tri-yearly influential survey first compiled in 2013.

Well-designed solar farms can help stop and even reverse biodiversity, the solar body argues.  The facilities direct enhance and shelter animal habitats and plant and insect life, at the same time providing quick, renewable, low-cost energy with minimal environmental impact.

“Land management is a central part of the solar industry,” said Chris Hewett, Solar Energy UK’s chief executive.

“In the UK, we have growing evidence that wildflowers, pollinators and bird species are thriving on solar farms. Solar Energy UK are today promoting the ways in which solar can best play a role in the nature recovery agenda, as well as cutting carbon emissions”.

Solar Energy UK’s latest best practice guidance explains how project developers are responding to this ecological emergency, by developing high-quality solar farms that can help land recover from intensive farming, enable the natural environment to flourish, and support community buy-in for solar farms.

The development of large-scale ground mount solar is a big opportunity, the guide argues, to implement dual-use cultivation, with field supporting both Britain’s self-sufficiency in clean energy, as well as the recovery of nature.

“Summer’s lease” – with a full repairing obligation

Leftover space can also be set aside for grassland and wildflower meadows, providing ideal habitats for pollinators, insects, birds, grazing mammals and other species of wildlife.

Case studies in the guide analyse solar’s biodiversity impacts at a 6MWp park in Devon and at a 19MWp installation in Essex.

Improvements included, at the first, the highest biodiversity gains recorded on any solar farm plus, in Essex, seedings of rare flowers such as corncockle, cornflower, marigold, red clover, bird’s foot trefoil and yellow rattle.

The chief renewables advisor at the National Farmers Union endorsed the guide. Dr Jonathan Scurlock said: “The NFU strongly encourages developers of solar farms at all scales to follow best practice guidelines for multi-purpose land use – energy production, grazing of small livestock and agri-environmental measures”

Land used by solar farms remains classified as agricultural, and can revert in the longer term back to agricultural use, the NFU advisor clarified.

The guide outlines how developers can design, construct, and operate high-quality PV farm projects to support Britain’s ecology.

For every project stage from site design to decommissioning, the guide itemises opportunities for ecological growth, including for pollinators, soil health, hedgerows, tree planting, and sheep grazing.

The guide reflects new obligations to be imposed on landowners by the new Environment Act, which gained royal assent last November.

Investors Next Energy Capital list 93 British solar farms in their global portfolio of 324. Sulwen Vaughan, the fund’s director of solar photovoltaics added: “This best practice guidance offers a good structure for the natural habitat on our UK solar sites”.


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