From what may have been the greenest solar farm ever to Ecotricity's efforts to promote bee-friendly solar installations, UK solar developers have already been making great strides to ensure that large-scale solar doesn't come at the expense of natural wildlife habitat.
Now a partnership between the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and solar developer Anesco is aiming to contribute to this trend, using the land in and around solar farms to promote biodiversity and protect threatened species. Initially, the partnership will involve RSPB experts visiting a number of Anesco’s solar farm sites to make recommendations on how they can be further enhanced to the benefit those wildlife groups deemed to be under the most serious threat. Anesco will then take these recommendations into account to develop biodiversity management plans for all new solar farm sites that it builds.
Darren Moorcroft, the RSPB’s Head of Species and Habitats Conservation, framed the effort as a way to prove that renewable energy can and should be developed in a way that doesn't just avoid negative impacts, but creates positive ones too:
“Over the next few years we will be working with Anesco to further improve the habitats created at their solar farm sites across the UK. It is an excellent opportunity to develop habitats for nature in need of our help, showcasing how a renewable energy business and wildlife conservation can be delivered in unison; whilst providing clean energy and sustainable development we can still continue to give nature a home.”
RSPB has long been an advocate for clean energy and action on climate change. Indeed, anti-wind groups were somewhat incensed by the group's decision to install a gigantic wind turbine at its headquarters. Yet while the charity has opposed wind developments it considered to be a threat to birds, the turbine project was intended to demonstrate that the urgency of tackling climate change is such that sensitively sited renewable energy developments should be a priority for anyone interested in the protection of the environment.
Now RSPB's efforts to green up the solar industry may serve a similar purpose. While anti-renewables groups have been squabbling about "big solar" gobbling up land, research has shown that solar farms can sequester carbon and promote biodiversity if they are sensitively and appropriately managed.
Maybe we can have our birdseed cake and eat it too.