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Call of the wild

Release date:
25 November 2020
Lightsource bp solar farms are not only providing cleaner sources of electricity  ̶  they’re also helping to boost biodiversity 
 
🕒 5 min read | 📖 Feature| 💡 Why it matters

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

We take a look at some of LSbp’s work to boost biodiversity, from planning to planting 

Site planning

LSbp’s in-house teams use GIS (geographic information systems) and other tools during site selection to avoid areas of protected habitats. They also engage external environmental specialists, such as ecologists, landscape architects or agronomists as relevant, to undertake more detailed site assessments. 

 

Land management and planting plans are developed on a site-by-site basis, with locally appropriate habitat enhancements chosen to increase species diversity and support wildlife. 

Wildlife corridors

LSbp designs most of its sites with wide, uncovered margins to avoid shading of the panels, but they also create wildlife corridors that enable native species to move freely between habitats. 


What’s more, LSbp typically seeds these margins with locally-selected wildflower mixes or grassland meadow to support pollinators and birds, such as Australia’s critically endangered regent honeyeater. 

Tailored planting plan and habitat enhancement measures

One of LSbp’s first UK solar farms is also one of its most successful in terms of biodiversity.

 

Since the Wilburton solar farm was installed in 2011, the local brown hare population has risen from around three or four to about 50.

 

Meanwhile, more than 20 breeding pairs of English partridge are typically seen on the land, up from about five before the farm was installed. 

These gains are important when you consider that the English partridge is a Red List species


What sowed the seeds of this success story? “It’s not just that the site provides plenty of insects for the partridges to eat,” says Penny, “it’s also fenced off from people and dogs and the panels provide shelter from the weather and birds of prey.”

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

Buzzing for bees

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.

💡 Why it matters


The world relies on biodiversity, where each species, no matter how small, has an important role to play in creating a healthy ecosystem. However, this delicate balance is being threatened. LSbp solar farms are not only a source of clean and renewable energy, but also an opportunity to maintain biodiversity and boost ecosystem productivity. This complements bp’s biodiversity position, which states that bp will aim to achieve a net positive impact on biodiversity in our new projects and support biodiversity restoration and the sustainable use of natural resources.

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