A new study shows that solar farms can increase local biodiversity, which benefits wildlife and even surrounding crops. The new study in Britain shows that solar farms can have benefits in addition to providing clean, renewable energy without the need for mining for fuel. While the study, in this case was conducted in the U.K., it should also hold true for U.S. and international solar installations.
The new study, The Effects of Solar Farms on Local Biodiversity: A Comparative Study, by ecological consultants Clarkson & Woods and Wychwood Biodiversity examined 11 solar farms in England and Wales and compared them to nearby control plots. “Solar farms are unique in the farmed landscape in that they provide a high value ‘crop’ (solar power) while leaving the majority of the land area free for wildlife management,” found the study.
It found that properly developed solar farms are actually beneficial for a number of species including broad-leaved plants, grasses, butterflies, bumblebees and birds. They also can be developed in a way that allows for grazing while still benefitting the local meadows and crop land. “By becoming net producers of pollinating insects, which are in decline across the UK, solar farms can promote the health of surrounding crops such as cereals, vegetables, soft fruits and orchard fruits,” STA observed.
“We’re delighted with the findings of this survey,” said Leonie Greene, spokesperson for the the U.K. Solar Trade Association (STA). “It confirms that solar farms, when done properly, are an asset to our countryside and our natural environment. It also reaffirms the best practice standards our members have set out in our ‘10 Commitments for Solar Farms’.”
The STAs commitments include focusing on lower agricultural quality lands, being sensitive to protected landscapes, minimizing visual impact, community engagement, encouraging biodiversity measures and returning land to former use, among others. “By adhering to these standards solar farms can enhance the ecological value of the land and encourage land diversification,” Greene contended.
The report also found that the levels of biodiversity at the sites were dependent on each site’s management in the study. “The stronger the focus on wildlife management the better. In this way, solar farms provide a ‘mosaic’ of meadow habitat and important foraging grounds and shelter for many species,” STA stated. The management techniques include using a diverse seeding mix, managing marginal habitats for wildlife and limiting the use of herbicides.
The organization is looking to make sure solar arrays and the land they’re on are properly operated and managed, according to STA CEO Paul Barwell. “O&M is a key part of ensuring not just asset optimization, but ensuring high standards in health and safety as well as land management. Solar is low maintenance, but not zero maintenance.”Tweet