New renewable energy sources, such as solar farms, are vital as low carbon sources of energy to power this country. However, the National Trust has always argued that it is essential that these schemes are realised in tune with landscapes and the natural environment. Communities have raised concerns about the ecological and visual impact of solar farms.
Therefore the National Trust has welcomed a series of commitments by the Solar Trade Associations (STA) which will guarantee solar farm developments engage with local communities, as well as work to protect the countryside and the land they are developing.
The ten commitments issued by the STA will work to deliver the best practice and according to STA chief executive Paul Barwell they will have multiple benefits “not only for the climate, but for the British countryside.” This approach is not only refreshing but reassuring as it marks the industry making a robust commitment to responsibly locating, setting up and running the solar farms.
Patrick Begg, the National Trust’s Rural Enterprise Director, has welcomed this approach to driving best practice saying “there are clear commitments here about leaving the host sites in better shape for wildlife, habitats and soil quality than when the project began.”
Solar farms allow for a wide range of dual land uses, including: sheep grazing, bee-keeping and pheasant rearing meaning that the land can retain a positive agricultural value. They can also help measures to boost vulnerable local wildlife through bat box schemes and wildflower meadow cultivation. The initiative allows for a sustainably managed environment in addition to a clean energy source.
Solar farms are also a popular measure to achieve low carbon energy. A recent survey of more than 2,000 people by YouGov showed that 40 per cent would prefer a solar farm located near them rather than a wind farm, nuclear power plant or fracking scheme. When the details of the “best practice” commitments were explained to the public, support for good quality solar arrays rose to 53 per cent pushing overall backing for the developments to 71 per cent.
Solar Farms: 10 Commitments
Solar farm developers, builders or tenants who are members of the STA will comply with the following best practice guidance:
1) We will focus on land which is of lower agricultural quality
2) We will be sensitive to national and local land designations
3) We will minimise visual impact where possible and maintain appropriate screening throughout the lifetime of the project managed through a Land Management and/or Ecology plan
4) We will engage with the community in advance of submitting a planning application
5) We will encourage land diversification by proposing continued agricultural use or incorporating biodiversity measures within our projects
6) We will do as much buying and employing locally as possible
7) We will act considerately during construction, and demonstrate ‘solar stewardship’ of the land for the lifetime of the project
8) We will seek the support of the local community and listen to their views and suggestions
9) We commit to using the solar farm as an educational opportunity, where appropriate
10) At the end of the project life we will return the land to its former use