Research from Lancaster University – published last week by trade association, Solar Energy UK – has offered evidence that solar farms can enhance biodiversity on farm land.

Solar farms surveyed by ecologists showed an increase in the abundance of wildlife, especially pollinators like bees and butterflies that maintain biodiversity and ecosystem stability. Pollinator habitats, such as wildflower meadows, can be established within solar farms and could increase the abundance of bumblebees by up to four times, said the report.

Conservative estimates suggest we have more than 1500 pollinating insect species in Britain, but key pollinator groups have declined in recent years due to the loss of suitable habitat compounded by an increased use of pesticides. According to Friends of the Earth, the UK has already lost around 13 species and another 35 are currently at risk.

Insects increase food security through the pollination of 84% of crop species in Europe, and the UK including oilseed, strawberries, apples, beans and tomatoes. The benefit of insect pollination varies between crop types but can increase fruit and seed production, improve quality, and taste, and speed up ripening.

The majority of solar farms are built on 'moderate quality agricultural land', grade 3b land or less, which is less productive for farmers but flat enough for solar panel installations and perfectly positioned for insects to pollinate nearby crops.

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Research suggests that establishing honeybee hives on every solar farm in England could result in benefits worth £5.9m in 2017. If pollinator-dependent crops were located closer to solar farms, values could theoretically have reached £80m.

The impact of managing solar farms for wild pollinators is yet to be researched, but given that wild pollinators are more important for crop than domestic honeybees, the benefits could be even greater.

Hollie Blaydes, an ATK2i associate with Solar Energy UK and PhD student, produced the research, which explored the potential for solar parks to enhance pollinator biodiversity and boost pollination services to surrounding agricultural land.

She said: "Given their rapid expansion, the impacts of solar parks on biodiversity are relatively unknown. However, solar parks are often located in species-poor agricultural landscapes and if deployed and managed appropriately could support and enhance declining groups such as pollinators."

Since the government ruled out planning protections for grade ‘3b’ farmland in December, enquiries to solar companies from farmers have quadrupled.

Neil Cockerill, founder of solar energy company, Rainbow Energy, said: “Since the lifting of the proposed ban, we have had more than four times the number of enquiries for solar from farmers. The benefits of solar are numerous.

"PV panels save agricultural businesses from paying sky-high energy prices, promote food security by keeping farms in business and encouraging biodiversity, cutting carbon on the way,” he argued.