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Solar Planning and our Precious Places- the Big Debate

In this series of posts, Sophie McGovern explores debate and innovation around renewable energy and sustainability

Here at National Trust we think solar PV is a fantastic renewable technology. It’s set to become the cheapest low-carbon technology based on current projections, and it is argued that solar will put a ceiling on our rising energy costs, not nuclear or fracking. All things considered solar development has profound economic and environmental benefits. That’s why we’ve already installed panels at some of the special places we look after.

Solar PV that works with the landscape of the Farne Islands

Solar PV that works with the landscape of the Farne Islands

But do the economic and environmental benefits mean that solar planning should be pushed through at any cost, anywhere?

I recently attended Eco Build 2014 where National Trust’s Senior External Affairs Advisor, James Lloyd spoke on the topic of solar planning. Although agreeing that solar has something immensely valuable to contribute to both community and environment, James argued the case for opposing inappropriately sited large-scale PV on our most sensitive landscapes.

Maintaining a Social License to Operate

When debating best practice around solar planning it’s apt to consider how public opinion regarding wind power and fracking has declined in recent times. At the moment solar has a relatively positive public profile, but inappropriate and irresponsible planning in sensitive areas could damage this. Developers looking out for their own short-term interests could negatively affect the long-term prospects of the industry. With growth there is risk, and the industry needs to maintain a social license to operate if it is to become a viable energy alternative. A number of UK solar farm developments have already been blocked due to local opposition and an increase in such cases could really set solar back.

Lloyd argues that:

“Ultimately the industry needs to win over hearts and minds. We have deep connections to our special places here in Britain and decisions on planning should respect this connection instead of focusing solely on utility and process. We want solar to make our special places even more special, not less so. To do this, developers need to engage communities and consider the wider reaching benefits for wildlife, landscape and the local economy.”

Development that considers community and conservation

Conservation benefits of solar can include wild flower plating

Solar PV can deliver conservation benefits

The Solar Trade Association’s 10 Commitments and the National Solar Centre’s sector based planning guidance are an excellent start when it comes to a better approach to development, but the industry needs to go further. Solar developments that work with communities and with the spirit of a place are the way forward. Planning and site selection is a crucial part of this, as is early community engagement and the early sharing of any environmental impacts.

It is also important to consider how renewables can enhance the function of the landscape. We need to consider the potential benefits to local community and their precious places. Panels take up a small percentage of field space, for example, and there is scope for using the remaining land to deliver conservation or economic benefits. This could be through wild flower planting that attracts pollinators and thus has a positive impact on local wildlife and agriculture. The greatest opportunity with solar is community ownership, which will enable local people to generate energy for themselves.

National Trust believes strongly in the need to grow renewable energy- we have a target to generate 50 per cent of our own energy from renewables by 2020- but we also believe that this can be done without putting the beauty of our natural and built heritage at risk. With the right approach renewables can make our places more, not less special.

We welcome you to join in the solar debate. Do you think that PV should be installed regardless of impact on landscape? Do you oppose solar development in a precious place near you?

 

Sophie blog

Sophie-Ann McGovern is a media and communications intern at National Trust with a focus on energy and sustainability. She has a BA English Literature from Leeds University and an MA Creative writing from Bath Spa.
When not working at the Trust she can generally be found scampering around the countryside, cruising along the Kennet and Avon in her solar powered narrow boat, playing accordion, foraging for wild food or making up stories and writing them down.

Over the next six month you can follow her adventures and insights relating to sustainable energy and ideas sharing on the National Trust Places blog.


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National Trust evidence for: Environmental Audit Committee inquiry on HS2 and the environment

Earlier this month we submitted evidence to the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) inquiry into HS2 and the environment. 

Our evidence concerns these main areas:

1. The lack of technical/professional review of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) meaning the methodology should be reassessed

Whilst HS2 claim that ‘professional judgement has been used’ in the Environment Statement, it is purely up to a non-technical/professional reader to accept this judgement, in this case Parliament or planning authorities. 

As no formal mechanism currently exists for peer review or a technical panel that can arrive at a professional consensus, we have asked for a reassessment of the EIA process.

 

2. Technical dispute concerning HS2’s plans to conserve wildlife

We and many others have questioned the lack of scientific rigour in the chosen strategy to protect Bechstein’s bats (one of the UK’s rarest mammals).

Much of the objections to these issues have already been brought up in our response to Environment Statement which can be viewed here

We have asked the committee to consider this technical dispute before the ES is handed to the decision maker.

 

3. HS2’s objective for biodiversity offsetting should be clarified.

HS2’s own sustainability policy (as published by HS2 in April 2013) sets out a commitment to achieving ‘no net loss for biodiversity’ across the project.

However, it is entirely impossible for a large infrastructure project such as HS2 to claim that it can achieve no impact on biodiversity. The railway would affect areas such as:

  • the loss of irreplaceable habitats and species
  • fragmentation of sites
  • severance of ecological corridors / networks
  • noise and visual disturbance
  • barrier effects to movement of fauna
  • lighting
  • changes in water quality
  • mortality as a result of collision

These impacts fall outside the realms of biodiversity offsetting and therefore our evidence has demanded that ‘The precise role of offsetting in a project of this magnitude should be clarified.’

 

4. Finally, we have suggested a revision of HS2’s aspiration for ‘no net loss for biodiversity’

Merely striving to offset the impact of development encourages a perception that our wildlife is ‘disposable, tradable and replaceable’.

Instead, the HS2 should aspire to achieve a net gain for biodiversity as a consequence of the development.


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National Trust calls for our most special places to be frack free zones

We’ve joined up with other leading countryside groups to call for our most sensitive areas to become frack-free zones and for improved regulation of shale gas.

In a report called ‘Are we fit to frack?’, developed with the Angling Trust , RSPB, the Salmon & Trout Association, The Wildlife Trusts and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, we set out ten recommendations for Government to make fracking safer.

Morecambe Bay in Cumbria is one of many special places for nature that may be affected by the shale gas industry

Morecambe Bay in Cumbria is one of many special places for nature that may be affected by the shale gas industry

Frack-free zones

The recommendations are based on a full technical evidence report which has been peer reviewed by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, one of the UK’s leading ecological research institutes. It is supported by a cross party group of MPs including Zac Goldsmith, Alan Whitehead and Tessa Munt.

We are calling for all protected wildlife areas, nature reserves and national parks to be frack-free zones, for full environmental assessments to be carried out for each drilling proposal, and for the shale gas industry to pay the costs of its regulation and any pollution clean-ups.

Serious concerns

The report highlights a lack of regulation around shale gas exploitation which could cause serious impacts for a range of threatened species including pink footed geese, salmon and barbastelle bats.  It also raises serious concerns about the impact of drilling and water contamination on some of our most precious natural habitats such as chalk streams.  These crystal clear waterways are known to anglers and wildlife-lovers as England’s coral reefs – 85 per cent of the world’s chalk streams are found here.

Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus)

Barbastelle bat ©National Trust Images/Bat Conservation Trust/Hugh Clark

Simon Pryor, our natural environment director, said: “The debate on fracking needs to be evidence based. The evidence from this detailed research clearly reveals that the regulation of shale gas needs to be improved if it’s to offer adequate protection for sensitive environments.

“Whilst the Government is keen to see rapid roll out of fracking, there’s a real danger that the regulatory system simply isn’t keeping pace. The Government should rule out fracking in the most sensitive areas and ensure that the regulations offer sufficient protection to our treasured natural and historic environment.”

The recommendations contained in the report are:

  1. Avoid sensitive areas for wildlife and water resources by creating shale gas extraction exclusion zones.
  2.  Make Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) mandatory for shale gas extraction proposals.
  3. Require shale extraction companies to pay for a world-class regulatory regime.
  4. Prevent taxpayers from bearing the costs of accidental pollution.
  5. Make water companies statutory consultees in the planning process.
  6. Require all hydraulic fracturing operations to operate under a Groundwater Permit.
  7. Make sure the Best Available Techniques (BAT) for mine waste management are rigorously defined and regularly reviewed.
  8. Ensure full transparency of the shale gas industry and its environmental impact.
  9. Ensure monitoring and testing of shale gas operations is rigorous and independent.
  10. Minimise and monitor methane emissions.

 

  • The National Trust has committed to reduce its energy use by 20 per cent, halve fossil fuel consumption and generate 50 per cent of its energy from renewable energy sources by 2020. For more information go to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/energy 


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Hello all!Samuel Weaver Blog

My name is Samuel Weaver and I have recently started as Media and Communications intern at the National Trust. I’ll be acting editor to some of the content that will appear in the Places blog over the next six months.

To tell you all a bit about myself, I am a recent History graduate from the University of the West of England. In my panicked post-uni phase I fell into a job selling sausages. As you can imagine, meat-mongering is not the most rewarding career choice I wanted, so here I am writing in a National trust blog!
Today I’ll be introducing you to the rest of the wonderful writers of this blog.

Eleanor Dewdneyellie blog

Ellie is the current Land and Landscape Intern at the National Trust. She read Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at Oriel College, Oxford and graduated last summer.

She’s loves writing and is enthusiastic about making sure people are up to date on issues affecting some of Britain’s most loved places.
As well as keeping readers in the know about what’s in the news and how it affects the Trust, she’ll be looking at what it took to be a domestic goddess in the past, having a go at recipes that would have been used at different Trust sites and encouraging you to have a go as well!

Gina Richards

Gina Richards blog image

Gina, is a Media and Communications intern focusing on producing video to support the many upcoming National Trust projects. As a Graphic Design graduate, she is passionate about communicating inspiring ideas and important issues.

Over the next few weeks, she will be documenting her journey of starting to grow her own vegetables and learning more about seasonal produce.

Catch her at @ginaarichards

Bethany Brown

Twenty-one year old Bethany Brown is a Communications intern on Project Wild Thing.beth 2
On top of the already demanding role ahead of her, she is currently studying her final year in Journalism at the University of Lincoln.

Her first series of posts will be questioning why we let children have all the fun? She will be running her own campaign alongside the National Trusts 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ by suggesting and undertaking her own 50 things to do before 21 ¾.

Join the fun and suggest ideas to @Bethany_A_Brown or share pictures and videos of you taking part.

Sophie-Ann McGovern

Sophie-Ann McGovern is a media and communications intern at National Trust with a focus on energy and sustainability. She has a BA English Literature from Leeds University and an MA Creative writing from Bath Spa.Sophie blog
When not working at the Trust she can generally be found scampering around the countryside, cruising along the Kennet and Avon in her solar powered narrow boat, eating copious amounts of (chocolate) cake, playing accordion, foraging for wild food or making up stories and writing them down.

Over the next six month you can follow her adventures and insights relating to sustainable energy and ideas sharing on the National Trust Places blog.


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National Trust response to the HS2 phase one environmental statement consultation

We’ve just submitted our response to the HS2 phase one environmental statement consultation – you can read the full document here.

In it we are calling for a reconsideration what HS2 looks like at Hartwell House and in its wider setting, which includes Aylesbury and the several nucleated settlements that surround it.

We and others feel our own land bridge proposal, which has been rejected by HS2 Ltd in the Environmental Statement, still provides the most appropriate means by which to offset the significant harm caused by the proposed route. The land bridge  reconnects the landscape and greatly reduces the noise from the railway.

The Environmental Statement acknowledges the negative impacts for Hartwell and the wider area but only proposes some screen planting and acoustic fencing as sufficient, this despite the World Health Organisation guidelines on noise that classify the stated daytime level (after mitigation) of 50 dB(A) as still ‘moderately annoying’.

Elsewhere, the Environmental Statement arrives at the fundamentally incorrect conclusion that ‘the project is unlikely to result in any significant adverse effects on the special characteristics of the Chilterns AONB’.  Placing built structures above ground within the AONB must have such an effect. We support the principle of an extended tunnel for the Chilterns AONB.

We also question the assessments of the cumulative effects identified at Calvert from an ecological perspective, principally bat foraging, and believe a different legacy design is required. A strong consensus exists amongst ecologists that the ‘box like’ structure, as promoted by HS2, to protect Bechstein’s bats is not sufficient and that the evidence base for this needs exploring. The findings reported therefore are entirely speculative. A better design approach is required and one that addresses Bechstein’s, wildlife crossings, habitat management and treatment of the Infrastructure Maintenance Depot and sustainable placement of spoil.

oakleaf-pink


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Fun with Forest Schools in Leigh Woods

What is a Forest School? Children and Nature Intern Julia Bush took a trip to Bristol to find out with the children who love having fun in the National Trust’s Leigh Woods.

You can learn more about Forest Schools and why they matter at http://www.forestchild.co.uk and you can discover more great places to play outdoors at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Featured Image -- 3113


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Managed retreat at Birling Gap

Originally posted on National Trust Places:

Perched on the cliff above the beach at Birling Gap, the all-in-one National Trust café, shop and information point welcomes an estimated 350,000 visitors a year. Whatever the weather, you can recline in the sun lounge, enjoying views towards Beachy Head in the east and the iconic Seven Sisters in the west.
Seven Sisters and Birling Gap © Howard Bristol

Seven Sisters and Birling Gap
© Howard Bristol

But the cliffs hide a worrying truth; they are eroding by on average 0.7m per year, giving the sun lounge itself an estimated life span of 12 years.

As the National Trust is keen to work with (not against) natural processes wherever possible, the property team at Birling Gap are following a policy of managed realignment, and have come up with some creative ways to adapt to coastal change.

Firstly, they have been busy converting the building’s unused rooms, which are furthest away from the shore, into a comfortable beach…

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