Expert advice on how to optimise biodiversity on solar farms has been published by the BRE National Solar Centre (BRE NSC).
The guidance has been written by ecologist Dr Guy Parker in partnership with The National Trust, RSPB, Plantlife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Eden Project, Buglife, Wychwood Biodiversity, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and the Solar Trade Association (STA).
Solar farms typically take up less than five per cent of the land they are on leaving scope to develop protected habitats to support local wildlife and plantlife, and BRE says many species benefit from the diversity of light and shade that the solar arrays provide.
The guidance urges solar farms to be considered in the context of existing designated habitats and corridors to help improve the overall network of spaces for wildlife.
It is aimed at planners, ecologists, developers, clients and landowners, and outlines the options for maximising this potential and explains a range of habitat enhancements, from beetle banks to winter food planting for birds.
One of the case studies in the study features a partnership by Solarcentury and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to boost bumblebee populations.
BRE NSC associate director Jonny Williams said: "Solar farms are already the most popular form of local energy development but their potential to protect British wildlife is attracting huge interest. The BRE NSC has been working to define best practice for solar farms and we have developed this specific biodiversity guidance to help conservation groups, communities, solar developers and planners deliver great results for nature."
Research by the guide’s author Dr Guy Parker shows that solar farms demonstrably increase biodiversity compared to farmed or neglected land. The BRE NSC guide makes clear that monitoring and learning from experience will be essential on solar farms.
Around 2.5GW of solar farms have already been delivered in the UK. The new guidance aims to encourage more interest in the development of solar farms not only for renewable energy generation but also for the biodiversity benefits.
The STA wants to see around 10GW by 2020 which would require around 0.1 per cent of UK land, less than the area used for non-food crop like linseed. Existing guidance by the NSC makes clear that conflict with food production should be avoided by using low grade agricultural land and brownfield sites.
The report is available to download from www.bre.co.uk/nsc