Solar farms to provide lifeline to British bumblebees

  • bumblebee  

    The Shrill carder bumblebee is one of the UK's rarest bees which could be homed in a solar park. Picture: Dave Goulson.

Ground-mounted solar farms are to become a safe haven for the declining British bumblebee under a new initiative from PV project developer Solarcentury.

In the last 80 years, two bumblebee species have become extinct in the UK and several more are rapidly vanishing - so Solarcentury has teamed up with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) to help create solar homes for British bees.

According to the two bodies, ground-mounted solar farms help in producing microhabitats (small specialised insect homes) for bees with a variety of wet, shaded and sunny areas, making attractive homes for wildlife.

The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) claims one in three mouthfuls is dependent on bee pollination; solar farms could help to prevent intensive agriculture from destroying vital bee habitats.

Frans van den Heuvel, chief executive of Solarcentury explained: “Whenever we develop a solar park, we plant acres of wildflower meadows with native seed mixes that are specifically designed to attract a diversity of wildlife. Our solar parks are fenced off, and frequently situated in remote areas, which creates a safe haven for wildlife. So in addition to generating clean, carbon-free energy, our solar parks are also helping to reinvigorate the much-loved British bumblebee.”

Solarcentury and BBCT are planning to engage local communities near solar farms to help support bees. It is hoped these initiatives between solar farms and local green spaces will assist a healthy bumblebee population, including some of Britain’s rarer bees.

Lucy Rothstein, chief executive of BBCT, said: “We are very excited about working with Solarcentury to enhance the prospects of Britain’s bumblebees.”

She said BBCT wanted to improve the quantity and diversity of wildlife in solar farms and in nearby communities. "We believe solar parks can breathe life into the bumblebee population,” she said.

A University of Reading study in 2012 into UK bee decline said honey bee colonies fell by 53%, between 1985 and 2005.

Simon Potts, professor of biodiversity and ecosystem services, who co-authored the report, said: "This is a big problem that needs a combined effort by national and local government, businesses and individuals to make a difference."

Last month, Friends of the Earth held an Earth Bee Summit, to campaign for a “bee action plan” and to “make 2013 the year of the bee” - including encouraging new habitats.

Friends of the Earth's executive director Andy Atkins said at the summit: "We all agree prompt measures are needed to tackle all the threats bees and other pollinators face.”

The EU also voted in April to ban three pesticides that are allegedly harmful to bees.

The government also runs environmental stewardship programmes (ELS) and higher level stewardship (HLS) schemes, providing advice, support and funding to farmers or land owners towards environmental management – with a target of creating more than 80,000 hectares of land managed to increase biodiversity across the UK.

Solar farms could have a dramatic impact on the target, the BBCT and Solarcentury said: “Solar parks are just as much a win for bumblebees and other insects as they are for people and the planet.”

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