Wildflowers at solar farm

Converting a former gravel pit to a species-rich solar farm

Client: West Solent Solar Co-operative Ltd

In 2013, West Solent Solar Co-operative Ltd (WSSC) secured planning permission for a new solar farm on the site of a species-poor, former gravel pit on the edge of the New Forest National Park, subject to approval of a grassland management plan.  Developing its ecological value was a key element of WWSC’s aims for the site, and Arcadian Ecology was approached by the Co-operative to help achieve this due to our existing associations with the New Forest National Park Authority.

The project

The objective was to develop a biodiversity management plan to demonstrate best practice and deliver genuine biodiversity gain over and above the minimum planning requirements.  Key elements of the project plan were:

  • Conduct an audit of current biodiversity interest;
  • Develop a SMART action plan for biodiversity objectives and progress monitoring;
  • Create a 3.6 hectare wildflower meadow, using wildflower seed to enhance the existing seed bank;
  • Design a monitoring plan following the BRE National Solar Centre Guidance and CIEEM best practice for ecological survey.

The results

Following construction of the solar farm in 2014, initial surveys highlighted promise in the existing habitat with bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus, small copper Lycaena phlaeas, toads and small mammals all recorded, and WSSC embraced the recommendations within our biodiversity management plan to enhance this.  Working in partnership with WSSC and our local contacts, we helped them work with what was there that was good, such as a mature hedge and trees, and enhance that by creating new hedgerows and copses and by sowing a wildflower seed mix across the site.  The wide spacing of panels allows maximum sunlight to reach both the panels and the ground of the “rides” between rows; this, in combination with the new hedgerow planting along the eastern and western boundaries, which provide shelter for the panels and habitat for a range of species, creates an efficient solar farm with genuine wildlife gain.

In review

Arcadian continues to provide a biodiversity monitoring service and annual report, as the habitats develop and new species become established.  The co-operative members also seized the opportunity to gain valuable training in biodiversity monitoring from our team of expert ecologists, with the majority of wildlife surveys undertaken at the site now conducted by the members.  We are thrilled to be invited to deliver regular wildlife talks to their members, and look forward to continuing to work together to ensure the full potential of the site for wildlife is realised.

We have been working with Arcadian Ecology for the last 3 years on our 10 year biodiversity management plan.  They have helped us enormously with drawing up the plan, setting up a monitoring scheme, training volunteers and analysing the data we collect.  They are always on hand to provide advice and answer questions and are invaluable partners in helping us make our site a haven for wildlife and an area rich in biodiversity.”   Kate Chapman, Midori Consulting