We all know that solar energy is one way we can reduce our carbon emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels, but solar sites also present opportunities to enhance biodiversity. Senior Business Conservation and Ecology Advisor, Charlotte Martin-Taylor, explains how we’re working with the solar industry to enhance these green energy sites for nature.

You might have spotted large arrays of solar panels on journeys through the countryside. While it is easy to understand how these panels can help deliver green energy, have you ever thought about how they can also support local wildlife?

Increasing biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions
Solar developments comprise solar panels mounted on the ground to turn the sun’s energy into electricity. They provide an excellent opportunity to help address the climate crisis by providing energy from the sun’s rays and provide measures to help biodiversity at the same time by creating natural habitats around the panels.

Most solar development takes place on land that was in intensive agricultural use. But as the panels are placed on racks above the ground surface, habitats that will support local wildlife can be enhanced and created between and around the panels.

For example, more species-rich grasslands or meadows can be established over time to attract pollinating insects and small mammals, hedgerows can be allowed to grow taller and thicker to benefit nesting birds, drained areas can sometimes be allowed to “re-wet” to benefit waders, and seed-rich areas for farmland birds.

Purple flowers of the Viper's Bugloss plant, surrounded by grassy vegetation and with a row of solar panels in the background.

The RSPB’s Business Conservation Advice Unit works with businesses to enhance their practices for nature. This includes working with the solar developer, Lightrock Power, who are committed to going above and beyond the legal requirements on their developments to support and enhance nature. © Jethro Gauld/RSPB.

Working with Lightrock Power to protect and enhance spaces for nature
The RSPB’s Business Conservation Advice Unit works with businesses to enhance their practices for nature. This includes working with the solar developer, Lightrock Power, who are committed to going above and beyond the legal requirements on their developments to support and enhance nature.

We provide bespoke advice for sites at the pre-planning application stage, focussing on how sites can be enhanced for species like Kestrel and Linnet. Lightrock undertake Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) assessments, which are designed to make sure land is left better for nature than it was found, on all of their sites, even when it isn’t required by planning, and deliver at least double the minimum score of 10% net gain.

Our advice can help Lightrock to deliver a net gain for wildlife, tailored to priority species in need of help. We also create ecological management plans for the ongoing management of the sites so that in the future, the sites continue to be well-managed for nature.

We have already provided advice on over 500ha of proposed solar development land since the partnership started in 2021.

A small hoverfly sits on the round, yellow flower of the Hawk's Beard plant. It is surrounded by grassy vegetation with a row of solar panels in the background.

We have already provided advice on over 500ha of proposed solar development land since the partnership started in 2021. © Jethro Gauld/RSPB.

Advice in action
As an example of the work we are doing to help Lightrock to create solar developments with nature in mind, Paytherden Solar Farm in Devon, a site for which we provided advice, has just received planning permission and is expected to achieve a 22% biodiversity net gain in habitats.

The 70.4 ha site is currently managed as arable and heavily grazed improved grass leys. The site will be enhanced to include:
• Wildflower meadows and tussocky grassland with wildflowers to attract butterflies, bees and small mammals, which in turn will attract their predators;
• Four blocks of orchard planting;
• The creation of new native species hedgerows that will include lower-level shrubs and tall hedgerow trees and provide more varied habitats and nesting opportunities for a more diverse range of bird species;
• Tussocky mosaics of herbaceous and shrubby growth as hedgerow buffers to benefit beetles, butterflies, moths and small mammals; and
• The establishment/enhancement of existing field margins, with tussocky grassland, pollinator plants and winter bird food.

A model for the industry?
We hope over time that this approach will inspire more within the solar industry to follow suit, and for governments to put in place the policies to ensure that all solar developments deliver benefits for biodiversity at a large scale. For instance, making biodiversity a factor in the renewables auction scheme, Contracts for Difference, could provide a powerful incentive for solar developers to deliver best practice for biodiversity.

Acknowledgements
The RSPB Business Conservation Advice Unit comprises a team of highly skilled biodiversity experts trained to work in close partnership with UK businesses to improve both land management and species recovery through on-the-ground Nature Positive projects, and the engagement around it. Visit our business conservation partnerships page to learn more about our partnerships.

The RSPB-Lightrock partnership is funded by Lightrock Power.

The RSPB reserves the right to object to any development in the wrong place or that meets our casework criteria.

Continue reading
• Quarries, creating unique homes for nature
• Working with golf courses to create greenspaces for nature
• Enhancing urban nature: how we’re helping to deliver liveable, sustainable towns and cities
Helping to reverse the nature crisis by supporting and advising business landowners and managers

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