Solar farms offer huge potential to address the UK’s biodiversity crisis, according to a new report.
The Natural Capital Value of Solar, published by the Solar Trade Association, argues that: “a growing body of scientific evidence indicates that well-designed and well-managed solar can support wildlife habitat and meaningfully contribute to achieving national biodiversity targets.”
Contributing to the report, Dr Alona Armstrong, from the Lancaster Environment Centre and Energy Lancaster at Lancaster University, says: “Short of setting aside land for conservation, solar parks arguably offer more potential than any other land use change to deliver much needed natural capital and ecosystem service benefits.”
The Report highlights the contribution of a new decision-making tool, developed jointly by Alona and Professor Piran White from the University of York, in helping to maximise the benefit of solar parks for the local environment.
The Report argues that solar parks have many advantages as sanctuaries for wildlife: “Solar farms are temporary, light-impact structures usually affecting less than 5% of the ground area with fixings and civil works. They are secure sites with little disturbance from humans and machinery once construction is complete, require little if any use of chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers, and typically incorporate ecological features such as drainage ponds and hedgerows which can be designed to optimise their habitat value.”
The report showcases the Solar Parks Impacts on Ecosystem Services (SPIES) tool, aimed at those involved in developing and operating solar parks. SPIES draws on over 700 pieces of evidence from more than 450 peer-reviewed scientific publications to assess what management actions can best support biodiversity – everything from creating wildflower meadows and wetland development to management for carbon sequestration and soil quality.
“Solar park management will be better informed in future by our new SPIES tool, which is underpinned by a large body of scientific evidence and co-developed with key stakeholders,” said Alona. “The SPIES tool is already being used by ecological consultancies and we look forward to seeing the broader response and subsequent upturn in natural capital in and around solar parks as its use spreads.”
The report also highlights the positive impact that some existing UK solar parks are already having, with recent biodiversity audits undertaken by Dr Guy Parker of Wychwood Biodiversity[AA1] showing they host six times more pollinators than adjacent fields. It presents a series of case studies providing examples of benefits from existing solar parks including:
· A boost for rare species including moths, foraging bats, yellowhammers and grey-legged partridges when developers cultivate tree-rich hedgerows
· Increased fruit crop pollination for orchards close to wildflower meadows
· Significantly higher plant and invertebrate diversity on sites with open drainage
· Positive impacts on wetland bird breeding when artificial wetland features are introduced, as well as reduced nitrogen loads and enhanced pesticide filtration.
Report author Nicholas Gall, from the Solar Trade Association, said: “Wildlife and plant species face profound threats today which are compounded by climate change. The Solar Trade Association is determined to promote best practice in the development and management of solar parks so that our industry helps to turn around prospects for nature while slashing millions of tonnes of carbon emissions. Going forward it will now be easier for all developers to match the best practice examples demonstrated by our members thanks to the new SPIES tool.”
SPIES has been developed with funding from the Natural Environment Research Council and is freely available.
The Natural Capital Value of Solar is endorsed by the Natural Capital Coalition, the Centre for Alternative Technology, and Ashden.
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