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Solar farms boost biodiversity says report

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Solar farms provide a home for many declining species of wildlife and otherwise boost biodiversity, in addition to playing an important role in the decarbonisation of the UK’s power, according to a report published this week by Solar Energy UK.

The ‘Solar Habitat: Ecological trends on solar farms in the UK‘ report, produced with Lancaster University and consultancies Clarkson & Woods and Wychwood Biodiversity, is based on results from 37 operational solar sites surveyed in 2022 across the UK. It found Linnets, a bird on the UK’s red list of conservation concern, were present across more than half of the 37 solar farms in the initial survey last year. Numbers of the small finch species, known for its beautiful song, have fallen dramatically since the 1960s, thought to be linked to the intensification of agriculture.

Yellowhammers and skylarks, which have the same status, were also found on around half of the sites surveyed. Grey wagtails, whitethroats, wrens and willow warblers, all amber listed by the British Trust for Ornithology, were also among the birds noted by ecologists last year.

Hollie Blaydes, the PhD student who led the research, said:

“It is very clear that solar farms can be wildlife havens. About half of the solar farms surveyed are managed with conservation specifically in mind, such as limiting grazing to only certain times of the year and reducing herbicide use. It’s on these where wildlife can really thrive and benefit from the habitats created. These findings and the net gain regime could help tilt the industry further towards improving biodiversity.”

Linnets found at solar farms
The report found that Linnets (pictured) were present at more than half of the 37 solar farms surveyed, as well as Yellowhammers and Skylarks – all birds on the UK’s red list of conservation concern,

Skylarks were reportedly heard singing above the panels on half of the sites – an indicator of breeding activity nearby, although actual nests have not been observed on solar farms to date. 

The most encountered mammals were brown hares, on a quarter of the sites surveyed. Smaller mammals, such as voles and mice, were thought to be present. The report also found that the low intensity of management on solar farms, as well as the range of habitats present, can support a variety of invertebrate species but being less visible, remained undetected.

Nine of the sites were home to the small heath butterfly, a species of principal importance under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 that has declined recently. The more widespread but declining cinnabar moth, a species of conservation concern, was recorded on seven sites.

The report also indicates that solar farms can support “a variety of invertebrate species”, upon which many others ultimately depend on for food or pollination, due to the low intensity of management on solar farms, as well as the range of habitats present. Insects living around ground-mounted photovoltaic panels could also benefit neighbouring agriculture by enhancing the number of available pollinators, the report concludes.

Rachel Hayes, Consents and ESG Policy Manager at Solar Energy UK, said:

“This report confirms what we have known anecdotally for many years: well-designed and well-managed solar farms can help address the climate emergency and loss of biodiversity in the UK.”

“Wildlife can benefit hugely from developing solar farms, providing a variety of habitats and raising the numbers of some of our most threatened species while pushing us forward towards net zero. I hope that the report’s findings will encourage more asset owners to adopt the standardised approach to monitoring ecology on solar farms and make the results even more robust.”

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