With extensive experience in wildflower and grassland management, Twig sees first-hand the role sensitive land management can play in improving biodiversity and therefore, it is very encouraging that research has now taken place which shows that solar farms really can significantly improve local biodiversity, with benefits to wildlife and potentially even surrounding crops.
Research published earlier this year found that solar farms have a positive impact on biodiversity for a range of plant and animal species when combined with an appropriate land management plan, in particular broad-leaved plants, grasses, butterflies, bumblebees and birds.
The report has tested and confirmed a growing body of anecdotal evidence that solar farms can actively benefit local wildlife. It also further validates advice given by biodiversity specialists, such as the BRE National Solar Centre Biodiversity Guidance for Solar Developments, which demonstrates that solar PV can be combined with agricultural activity such as grazing while benefitting the natural health of the surrounding area.
Solar Farms benefit the birds
The report found that solar farms were particularly beneficial for rare and threatened bird species:
“When weighting bird species according to their conservation status, solar farms scored significantly higher in terms of bird diversity and abundance, indicating their importance for declining bird species. The decline of many of these species has been attributed to intensification of agricultural practices. Solar farms with a focus on wildlife management tend towards limited use of pesticides, lower livestock stocking densities and the re-establishment of field margins, which would benefit many of these bird species.”
Solar Farms boosting the bee population
The report revealed that butterflies and bumblebees were in greater abundance on solar farms than on control plots. According to The Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s conservation manager Gill Perkins, like so many other species in the UK, the plight of the bees is largely down to habitat loss, “There are other reasons – climate change, pesticides, lack of nesting or hibernation sites, obviously have an effect – but we lost 97% of our wildflower meadows after the Second World War. Habitat loss is the key driver for decline.
“Recent studies of agri-environment schemes indicate that appropriate land management can bring about significant increases in wildlife populations on agricultural land. In the same way, with appropriate land management, solar farms have the potential to support wildlife and contribute to national biodiversity targets.
“Solar farms have several additional advantages in that they are secure sites with little disturbance from humans and machinery once construction is complete.
“Because solar panels are raised above the ground on posts, greater than 95% of a field utilised for solar farm development is still accessible for plant growth and potentially for wildlife enhancements and complementary agricultural activities such as conservation grazing. Following construction, there is little human activity apart from occasional maintenance visits. Most sites have a lifespan of at least 20 years which is sufficient time for appropriate land management to yield real wildlife benefits.”
Further reading: https://bumblebeeconservation.org/