Our latest project to gain planning permission is Longpasture Solar Farm, near Darlington.
The plans received cross party support, with the motion for approval coming from a Member who was looking forward to walking the site’s footpaths, enjoying the enhanced biodiversity that the scheme will offer.
With recommendations coming from the RSPB, we have planned areas of native wildflower grassland, meadow grassland, and substantial additional woodland and hedgerow. Wader enhancement and skylark mitigation areas surround the site on two sides, while bat boxes, species specific bird boxes (kestrel, starling, and tree sparrow), and mammal gates designed for badgers, will further enhance the biodiversity throughout the site.
Once built, the grassland between, and under the panels will be maintained by sheep, with conservation grazing keeping the grass short. This limits machinery on-site, which in turn provides a safer environment for mammals, reptiles, and birds living in the meadow. Recent evidence from Wageningen University showed that sheep living on Solar Farms are happier than those in a traditional open field – largely because of the shelter/shade that the arrays offer. The nitrogen content of the grass on a grazed solar farm was found to be 172% higher that of traditional open fields, meaning that the sheep also had a higher quality diet. During the Summer months, the sheep will be moved to surrounding fields, and wildflowers will be left to grow around the panels, to enhance the local pollinator population, and provide a stable food source for local birds.
Whilst the site was already being managed well for wildlife, the above plans will enable us to reach a 51% biodiversity net gain in habitats and 117% in hedgerows. This is well in excess of the upcoming statutory 10%, and even our own ambitious target of 20%.