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New data: positive habitat gains across Lightsource bp UK solar projects

  • Ten operational sites measured against Biodiversity Net Gain Good Practice Principles and the Biodiversity metric
  • Nine in ten sites showed positive habitat gains around solar panels
  • Lightsource bp commissioned audit ahead of Environment Act BNG requirements to take stock and inform new development proposals

Lightsource bp is proud to share the results of an independent audit by WSP of ten of our solar farms across the UK, which identified positive habitat gains on the majority of sites assessed.

We engaged WSP, a multi-disciplinary professional services consultancy, to independently assess ten operational sites against the industry’s Biodiversity Net Gain Good Practice Principles and the Biodiversity metric.

Through the Environment Act 2021, all projects granted planning permission in England will have to deliver at least 10% biodiversity net gain (BNG) from November 2023. It will also be required for small sites from April 2024.

Ahead of this legal requirement, Lightsource bp commissioned the audit to understand the current BNG value of some of their existing operational sites as part of the business’s target to achieve BNG on its self-developed solar sites from 2023.

Each site assessed Area Habitat, Hedgerow Habitat, River Habitat and satisfaction of the BNG trading rules. The trading rules dictate that habitat compensation must be ecologically like-for-like or better.

Of the ten sites audited by WSP’s Ecology team, all which housed ground mounted solar farms, nine showed improved habitat gains on the land around the panels when compared with the pre-existing habitat present at the sites before the solar farm was installed.

Overall, five sites achieved biodiversity net gain in accordance with the DEFRA metric. One site showed a positive habitat change of 280%, with another achieving over 115%, underlining the potential for significant benefits to the natural environment through considered management and responsible development methodology.

Of the five sites which didn’t achieve biodiversity net gain, three delivered a quantitative improvement in area-based habitats but did not satisfy the BNG trading rules. Only one site of the ten assessed saw a negative area habitat change, and only one saw a negative hedgerow habitat change.

Penny Laurenson, Director of Environmental and Social Planning at Lightsource bp, said: “For over a decade we have heard and seen anecdotal evidence of flourishing biodiversity on our solar farms. The results of WSPs survey are very promising, particularly as some of the older operational sites surveyed didn’t even have biodiversity management plans, let alone plans to achieve a biodiversity net gain when they were developed. It demonstrates the important role that solar farms can play both in decarbonising our energy mix and supporting nature.”

Tom Butterworth, Head of Ecology at WSP, said: “Developers across all sectors should not underestimate the seriousness of the task ahead to deliver biodiversity net gain on sites, be that solar farms, housing developments or transport schemes.

“Lightsource bp wanted to assess these ten sites as an indication of how they were delivering upon their ambitious BNG strategy, and it’s certainly encouraging to see the majority of sites returning positive benefits for nature.

“Whilst there is some work to do to ensure all ten sites are delivering BNG, taking the initiative to undertake this audit ahead of the Environment Act Biodiversity Net Gain implementation will stand them in good stead for these future legal requirements.”

The UK Government set out in its March 2023 Energy Security Plan its aspirations for the deployment of solar power, outlining its combined goal of 70GW of ground and rooftop capacity by 2035. This would be five times the current installed capacity in the UK.

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