We’re in the middle of a climate and ecological emergency. Biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate, with climate change and intensive agricultural practices responsible for serious ongoing damage to Britain’s wildlife.
Our solar farms give us an opportunity to both combat climate change and boost biodiversity in local areas, restoring wildflower meadows to help pollinators, insects, birds and mammals thrive. Just a small proportion of a solar park is permanently built on – the rest can be given over to meadows under the solar panels, open spaces, and hedgerows around the perimeter.
Creating a managed biodiverse landscape
The first step is to understand the underlying soil type and the pH, which is how acid or alkaline it is. We then sow the land with a mix of flower and grass seeds that are appropriate to the local area. Of course, if there are already important grasslands on the site, we’ll protect and enhance them as part of our efforts.
Once we have the seeding right, the next key step is to manage the land properly. Our approach is to mimic traditional pasture management in Britain. We let the meadows grow with no grazing or cutting between April and July because this is a hugely important time for birds and insects to nest, and for flowers to bloom. Then in June or July each year, we’ll harvest the meadows to stop them getting in way of the solar panels.
Bringing overworked land back to life doesn’t happen quickly. It might be 5-10 years before we see truly rich grasslands growing on the site. As part of this, we’ll manage any invasive weeds that already exist on the site, to ensure the meadows have a chance to establish themselves.
Adding to the landscape
We plant and manage hedgerows on most of our solar parks. We manage them carefully, allowing them to flower and bear fruit in winter – it’s vital to help wildlife – and cutting back just a proportion on a three-year cycle.
Hedgerows also provide ecological corridors through the landscape and we focus on linking our solar parks to other rich habitats and nature reserves nearby wherever we can.
Security is important on our solar parks, so we make sure that badgers, hares, rabbits and other mammals can move across the landscape by building in gaps or adjusting the height of fences off the ground to accommodate them.
On our upcoming solar parks, we’re also looking at creating ponds and potentially adding beehives – which would benefit pollination across the wider landscape. We’re planning an orchard for one of our bigger parks, with local varieties of apples and pears available for the local community to enjoy – as well as the wildlife, of course!
Leaving the site better than we found it
We work on biodiversity as part of all our activities – giving land back to nature is one part of our mission. We’re hoping that increasing numbers of companies will join us because, as of January 2023, all new developments should have a legal requirement to make a 10% biodiversity net gain as part of the Environment Act 2021.
Growing wildflower and grass meadows doesn’t just help animals and plants. Rich grasslands sequester much more carbon than poor producing arable land, so our solar parks will be making green energy and storing carbon at the same time.
Meadows restore soil health by increasing the amount of organic material, the number of invertebrates, and the degree of microbial activity in the soil. Deep-rooting plants help rainwater to percolate down and stop surface runoff of topsoil into rivers, which means that by the end of a solar farm’s average 40-year life, the land will be in better health and can be returned to productive agriculture if needed or left as a rich, biodiverse habitat.
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