WELL-DESIGNED and well-managed solar farms can boost biodiversity and enhance the 'natural capital' of farmland, according to a new report.

'The Natural Capital Value of Solar', published by the Solar Trade Association, highlights that biodiversity audits on solar parks owned by its members had found six times more pollinators than in adjacent fields. These findings have been endorsed by the Natural Capital Coalition, and the Centre for Alternative Technology.

STA is now highlighting its best-practice guide, demonstrate the range of ecosystem services that quality solar parks can provide, including biodiversity and habitat provision, flood mitigation, carbon storage, soil erosion mitigation, community engagement and pollination for food provision.

The STA has also contributed to the development of the Solar Park Impacts on Ecosystem Services (SPIES) tool. This is a joint initiative of Lancaster University and the University of York, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, which draws on over 700 pieces of evidence from over 450 peer-reviewed scientific publications on management actions in support of ecosystems.

Report author Nicholas Gall said: "Wildlife and plant species face profound threats today which are compounded by climate change. The Solar Trade Association is determined to promote best practice in the development and management of solar parks so that our industry helps to turn around prospects for nature while slashing millions of tonnes of carbon emissions.

"This report shows that, when real care is taken, solar farms can deliver tremendous benefits for wildlife, pollinators and even sustainable food production. Going forward it will now be easier for all developers to match the best practice examples demonstrated by our members thanks to the new SPIES tool."

Dr Alona Armstrong of Lancaster University said: “Short of setting aside land for conservation, solar parks arguably offer more potential than any other land use change to deliver much needed natural capital and ecosystem service benefits. Solar park management will be better informed in future by our new SPIES tool, which is underpinned by a large body of scientific evidence and co-developed with key stakeholders."

The report highlights a wide number of interventions that can be taken on solar parks, from varied hedgerow and wildflower meadow creation to wetland development, to management for carbon sequestration and soil quality. Research cited in the report and in the case studies provided shows how far-reaching the potential benefits are for nature. Examples include:

• A boost for rare species including moths, foraging bats, yellowhammers and grey-legged partridges when developers cultivate tree-rich hedgerows;

• Increased fruit crop pollination for orchards close to wildflower meadows;

• Significantly higher plant and invertebrate diversity on sites with open drainage;

• Positive impacts on wetland bird breeding when artificial wetland features are introduced, as well as reduced nitrogen loads and enhanced pesticide filtration.

In one of the case studies, both amber and red-listed species of bird were observed including kestrel, meadow pipet, redwing and mistle thrush.

The STA pointed out that there are currently just over a thousand solar farms in the UK, which collectively take up a mere 0.06% of land area, considerably less land space than either airports or mines. Developed sites offer long-term protection for wildlife over 30-40 years, requiring little human disturbance. Solar farms are temporary, light-impact structures usually affecting less than 5% of the ground area with fixings and civil works.

The STA is keen to see the role of solar parks recognised in biodiversity and pollinator strategies, in the development of wildlife corridors and for the enhancement of sustainable agricultural practices. The new report, case studies and SPIES tool can be accessed through the its webpage.