An extensive study of solar farms in the UK has found that the existence of the solar panels can improve biodiversity and wildlife abundance, especially when combined with measured land management.
Alongside the more familiar ecological benefits of a transition to solar energy – reduced carbon emissions – a new U.K. study has found that solar farms, when managed correctly can increase biodiversity and wildlife abundance. The research, carried out in 2015 by ecological consultants Clarkson & Woods and Wychwood Biodiversity, compounded previous assertions about the link between solar farms and biodiversity, and adds weight to the ecological argument for solar farms.
The Effects of Solar farms on Local Biodiversity: A Comparative Study was a far reaching project, which examined 11 solar farms across the U.K. to see what effects they had on the surrounding wildlife. It contrasted the finding with control plots, which represent the solar farms’ land before they were developed.
It found that the solar farms had a positive impact on plant and animal life, by providing meadow habitat and foraging grounds. Especially when suitable land management schemes were adopted, which encouraged the expansion of a larger range of biodiversity, and restricted certain practices that had negative impacts on the surrounding wildlife.
Flora and fauna
It was particularly encouraging to see that there were positive impacts for both flora and fauna, and that when one could thrive; often the other would prosper as a result.
There was a significant increase in botanical diversity at the solar farms. In fact, the total number of plant species found at all of the solar farms combines was 144, compared to just 70 plant species on all of the control plots. On average, there were 15 to 41 species of plant at the solar plots, yet just 2 to 18 at the control plots. The species that benefited the most were broad leaved plants and grasses.
This increase in botanical diversity is where the greatest diversity of animal life was found as well. Particularly butterflies, bumblebees and birds. The study found that, in general, there were significantly higher numbers of invertebrates at the solar plots. And as the circle of life goes, if solar farms can provide habitat for pollinating insects, then this will promote the wellbeing of surrounding crops as well.
The link between PV parks and biodiversity has long been noted, but this is one of the most extensive studies to have pointed to the positive correlation between the two. However, two things that are stressed within the study are the need for land management to assist – or at least not inhibit – the wildlife, and the need for further examination.
It is optimistic news for the environment and for the solar industry, as solar farms could not only be used as a policy of reducing carbon emissions, but also of actively encouraging the prosperity of local ecosystems.