The potential ecological impacts of ground-mounted photovoltaic solar panels in the UK

We completed a review of available literature on the ecological impacts of photovoltaic panels in January 2014.  This was triggered by concerns being raised by nature conservation consultees with regard to the potential effects of photovoltaic panels on aquatic invertebrates, bats and other receptors in response to planning applications.  Some initial investigation suggested that these concerns may have resulted from newspaper reports, rather than original research, and that the studies quoted might not be representative of a UK situation.  As a result, we extended our research to all readily available papers.  A summary of the study and a link to the full report is below.

Overview

A relatively low number of research papers have formed the basis for considerable discussion, and in some cases informed guidance relating to photovoltaic solar parks in the UK. Our recent review concentrates on the studies that have received the greatest amount of interest; these have been primarily concerned with aquatic invertebrates, birds, and bats.

From the research that we have reviewed, it seems likely that the majority of concerns that have been discussed in the media are not well-founded or particularly relevant to the UK. It is possible that for aquatic invertebrates, birds and bats the ecological impacts of ground-mounted photovoltaic solar panels in the UK are more limited than has been suggested by some articles. The articles are based on scientific experiments that were not specifically designed to evaluate ecological impacts of PV solar panels and the current design of PV solar panels in the UK is different to those studied. In some cases this design may already conform to the recommendations made for avoiding potential ecological impacts by the authors of the original research.

Unfortunately some sources were not available for consideration and the review is by no means definitive. We would therefore be very pleased to hear from anyone with more research or monitoring information, with a view to moving the subject forward and making sure that the design and planning of solar parks is undertaken in the most informed way possible.

We recommend that the objectives and design of surveys, and the development of ecological recommendations at ground-mounted PV parks should be considered on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that any design restrictions or mitigation / compensation measures are justified and effective.

We originally made the full review available on a request basis, as we were interested in gathering constructive comments, and reviewing any new material that was brought forward by peers. The review was requested by a large number of people. These were principally ecological consultants.  However, local authorities, NGO’s, renewables companies and government agencies have also expressed their interest.

Feedback to us has not resulted in further research being identified that is relevant to the areas covered by this review. However, a number of people who have seen our report have suggested that the wider impact of solar parks on biodiversity due to land-use change may need similar investigation.