With not very much going on, solar farms can naturally provide the ideal habitat for wildlife looking for the quiet life away from human activity.
And with extra efforts to enhance and encourage biodiversity, Lightsource bp (LSbp) is finding that mammals, birds, invertebrate and insect populations are on the rise at many of its sites around the world.
“The gains are multi-dimensional when you actively manage the land to strengthen biodiversity,” says LSbp director of environmental planning Penny Laurenson. And, since solar farms tend to sit relatively undisturbed for decades, there’s time to have a major impact.
In fact, one LSbp project in the US ̶ the largest solar farm in Pennsylvania ̶ has become a living laboratory for students at Penn State University. It not only supplies around 25% of the university’s annual electricity needs, but students can also use the farm to study soil physics and health, entomology, and conduct pollinator research.
So why does it matter? According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report, more than 40% of our invertebrate pollinators are threatened with global extinction and yet more than 75% of our food crops depend partially on their pollination. The economic value of pollinators is estimated by the report at somewhere between $235-577 billion.
Lightsource bp has a dedicated beekeeper to tend the hives at its sites
Beehives sit alongside the solar panels
The land is planted with wildflowers to attract the bees
A pheasant spotted on the Wilburton solar farm
A wildlife corridor on LSbp’s South Creake solar farm in Norfolk
A wildflower field attracts pollinators at South Creake farm
Penhale sheep grazing on Manor Farm in Dorset
Five years after deciding to install hives at some of its UK solar farms, LSbp sites are now home to around 1 million bees, harvesting about 1,000 jars of honey annually.
“We’re always asking ourselves: ‘How can we do more?’” says Penny. “We’d become aware of the decline in honeybee populations and the collapse of hives. So, we thought: ‘Why not bring some onto the habitats that we’re creating?’
“It’s a unique opportunity to blend an ancient craft with modern technology,” she says. “As well as providing valuable space for local bee farmers, these pollinators boost surrounding fields and farmland. It’s been so successful that we’re now looking at placing hives at other sites around the world.”
Wilburton (see above) was the first farm to pilot LSbp’s bee biodiversity plan. Wildflower seeding had already created a haven for various species of butterfly, so, in 2015, LSbp worked with a local bee farmer to install 10 hives. They were so successful that the company went on to plant another four acres of wildflowers, as well as sow an additional area of bird-friendly seed.
Today, the site is home to around 350,000 bees. Lightsource bp gifts its honey to its stakeholders and the bee farmer’s portion is sold at market locally.
Watch this CNN film about how LSbp is helping to boost the UK bee population