In this blogpost Morwenna Slade goes to Dinefwr Park in South Wales to explore their new solar installation.
“So, how was your trip to Dinefwr?”
“Well, I had a ride in an electric car, I saw some beautiful parkland and I had all my preconceptions about ground mounted solar arrays blown out of the water.”
I grew up running around the beautiful fields and valleys of south Wales, and I struggle to embrace change in the landscape if it is wrought by new buildings or infrastructure. Yet in the same breath I will be the first person to tell you how important change is and how amazing green technology can be. It is not easy to want something but be scared of the impact on the landscape that you know and love.
I really wasn’t sure what I was going to see when I arranged for Stephen Batsford, Dinefwr House Steward, to show me the new 50kW solar panel installation built in 2012. Everyone can spot a solar panel attached to the roof of a house. They seem to be popping up everywhere. Yet I have never seen a ground mounted one up close. The visual impact of roof mounted panels can be quite extreme, so I automatically assumed that they would have the same impact when put in a field. I was concerned that I would go and see an ugly scar on an otherwise pleasant green space, and feel conflicted.
Coming into the yard of Dinefwr Home Farm complex, Stephen indicated the electric car charging-point on the wall of the barn, then turned and pointed across the field to where, just a few hundred yards away, the electricity was being generated. It was then I had the feeling that – just maybe – it was possible to put solar panels in a field and for it to be ok.
DinefwrPark is near Llandeilo in South Wales, and encompasses the ruins of a 12th century castle, a mansion house, a Capability Brown landscape and a medieval deer park. The allotments, orchard and solar installation are all beside the Home Farm complex, quite a distance from the mansion house itself. According to Keith Jones, EPA for Wales, the complex has become a ‘hub of environmental solutions’, and home to organisations such as the Traditional Skills Training Centre. It is possible to visit the main property and leave without knowing anything about the range of green energy and community schemes that are in place.
Between the home farm and the solar panels is the wonderful clutter of a busy allotment. Bean frames, sheds and compost heaps mark out the keenly tended plots and seemed to soften the distant square edges. Walking through the young trees of the newly planted orchard, and even up close, I was surprised how little impact the installation seemed to have on the setting.
Standing in that field, I was very aware of how lightly the slim, stainless steel mountings and reflective surfaces of the panels sat amongst the timeless elements of landscape. Just like the ancient oak in the centre of the field, the installation is there quietly in a corner making good use of the sunlight. The steep hills rising up from the valley floor and the ancient trees dotted through the farmland just didn’t seem to mind the newcomer.
Until I took this trip to DinefwrCastle, I hadn’t really thought about infrastructure that is hidden in plain sight, which lies just behind hedgerows or is secreted along the side of a busy road. How many times have you driven past the distribution substation at the end of your road without giving it a second or even a first thought? Energy generation and infrastructure, be it green or otherwise, is a subject that is guaranteed to get a passionate response. But on a personal level, and having now stood in the same field as an array of panels, I am so much happier to say that well designed and well placed renewable energy installations really can be in tune with the landscape.
Find out more about the National Trust’s renewables programme here: