The natural benefits of community solar farms
As local community energy company Ovesco puts forward its proposals for a community-owned solar farm near Ringmer with the potential to generate enough power for 4,000 homes, Ovesco director Patrick Crawford explains the less obvious benefits of using land to generate solar energy.
Community solar farms may be associated with generating clean energy – but their environmental benefits can go a lot further than just replacing fossil fuels. The clean energy a solar farm generates plays its part in reducing the wider impacts of the climate emergency that threaten many of our landscapes and ecosystems. But by incorporating a range of other measures, a solar farm can also substantially improve local habitats for a variety of common and protected species, including birds and bats, butterflies and bees, moths and wild plants, as well as improving the quality of the land itself.
Wild and domestic animals, plants, and people too, depend on diverse ecosystems for health, food security and life. Biodiversity makes the earth habitable.
Community solar farms often have a goal to deliver a ‘biodiversity net gain’. The implementation of biodiversity and habitat management plans can result in significant improvements to local habitats and ecosystems. Existing hedges are often repaired and enhanced, and new hedging planted with native species, hazel, blackthorn, field maple, wild privet, and hawthorn. New hedging provides wildlife corridors – often along old field boundaries – as well as fruit and insect food for birds, bats, and dormice, and shelter for other species. Plus the screening that hedging provides minimises the visual impact on the landscape.
Wide field margins and the creation of buffer strips of land planted with grass and plant species allow insects to flourish and improve habitats for farmland birds and pollinators, such as skylarks and yellowhammers. Bird and bat boxes may be placed in selected locations. Bees and beehives, along with rotational grazing of sheep can add to the diversity.
Resting the land
Most farming uses chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides to increase yields. Over time, this reduces the quality of the soil and the biodiversity that sustains local wildlife. The temporary installation of a solar farm gives the land time to recover. Then at the end of the solar farm’s lifecycle (e.g. 30 years), the fields can be returned to agriculture, along with all the improvements to biodiversity, the soil and local habitats that have been generated in the meantime.
The benefits can spread out beyond the land to the wider community too. On a community solar farm, small and large-scale investors have an equal say in how the solar farm is managed. Any surplus income from energy generation is used for the benefit of the local area.
Ouse Valley Solar Farm
Ovesco is submitting a planning proposal for a community solar farm near Ringmer, outside Lewes, which plans to realise all these benefits. The Biodiversity Net Gain Assessment shows that Ouse Valley Solar Farm, once operational, has the potential to deliver a net increase of over 100% in habitat area units and linear units, significantly adding to the biodiversity of the area alongside generating enough clean energy to power more than 4,000 homes.
To find out more and to register your feedback, please visit https://ovesco.co.uk/ouse-valley-solar-farm/
For more on solar farms and biodiversity, check out the following links:
The Natural Capital Value of Solar, published by the Solar Trade Association,
BRE National Solar Centre biodiversity guidance, Published by BRE Trust
Solar Bee Project, published by Naturesave, which Berwick Solar Farm used.
Solar farm position statement, published by CPRE Norfolk