Solar Energy

BSG Ecology provides specialist ecological advice for solar schemes across much of the UK and Ireland.

Overview

Services range from input to feasibility studies, and Phase 1 habitat surveys of small-scale / feed-in-tariff (FiT) schemes, to EIA for nationally significant infrastructure projects. We can provide advice on a proportionate approach to survey, mitigation and enhancement.

Our approach typically starts with a preliminary assessment of the ecological feasibility / risk associated with a scheme.  Many small-scale solar projects have limited budgets: however, solar schemes are often proposed for agricultural land where ecological effects will typically be very limited.  In these circumstances a Phase 1 habitat survey often provides an appropriate baseline for assessment.

Where a range of ecological survey is identified as being likely to be needed during initial desk study or survey, this is communicated to the developer at an early stage.  This provides the developer with the option of pursuing alternative schemes if budgets are tightly constrained or if other disciplines have also identified issues and the scheme appears complex.

For large sites or those within ecologically sensitive areas, protected species survey is more regularly required, and mitigation, habitat enhancement and compensation can be used to reduce or avoid ecological effects, and in some cases deliver clear conservation gain (as is suggested in national planning policy).

Ecology Services for Solar

We have solar farm experience throughout the practice and provide support from initial high-level feasibility studies and constraints analysis, through to preparation of EcIA and related planning support documents, and representation at appeal.  We have supported schemes of up to 10.2MW, and many of the projects we have been involved in are now consented and/or built.

Services we commonly provide include:

  • Initial desk based and field-based ecological site appraisal to input to feasibility assessment;
  • Extended Phase 1 habitat survey and further botanical surveys to support planning applications as necessary;
  • Protected species survey and advice including appraisal of licencing requirements and (often) potential measures to avoid the need for a licence;
  • Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA);
  • Habitat management plans to integrate biodiversity gain with renewable energy production;
  • Attendance at public consultation events and consultation and negotiation with SNCO and other stakeholders;
  • Ecology constraints and opportunities mapping using GIS and working with other specialists to ensure optimal micro-siting;
  • Post-consent support for discharge of conditions including protected species licences, ecological mitigation strategies and input to landscape and ecology management plans, pre-construction checks for protected species and baseline water quality monitoring by our specialist invertebrate and aquatic ecology team;
  • Implementation of mitigation and impact avoidance measures including on site ecology watching brief, implementation of licenced mitigation and and pre-construction surveys and monitoring.

Project Examples

BSG Ecology was instructed by Juno Energy to undertake an ecological survey and assessment of a small afforested site near Swansea. The proposal concerned the development of a 1 MW photovoltaic array within an area of commercial forestry and fringing grassland. Next to the site were four large ponds set in pasture land.

The fringes of the site, which included hedge banks and a compost heap, were considered to potentially provide good terrestrial habitat for newts.  It was therefore important that the status of great crested newts within the ponds was understood, to ensure that the species was appropriately taken into account. We therefore advised, following discussion with the client, that an eDNA sampling exercise was completed using industry standard methods.

BSG Ecology was commissioned by LDA Design to provide ecological support for a solar park near Highbridge in Somerset. The site, known as Watchfield Lawn, consists of two parcels of land in the Somerset Levels.  The habitats on site are agriculturally improved pasture bounded by species-poor hedgerows and drains.

BSG Ecology initially carried out an extended Phase 1 habitat survey and concluded that negative ecological impacts on habitats resulting from the scheme would be minimal, however, opportunities to enhance biodiversity were identified as a result of baseline ecological surveys and assessment.

In 2015 BSG Ecology provided support to a leading solar developer with regard to a scheme in agricultural land close to the River Severn in Gloucestershire.

BSG Ecology initially reviewed ecological data relating to the area and undertook an extended Phase 1 habitat survey of the Site.  The review was used to input to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Screening Report, to which a Habitats Regulations screening letter was appended. We were aware, that Natural England (NE) considered that a solar development project in the area might potentially affect the qualifying interest of European Sites of nature conservation importance associated with the Severn.  The screening letter therefore reviewed the interest features of the European sites and drew some reasoned conclusions as to whether they were likely to be impacted by the proposals.

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