A round table discussion hosted by the Solar Trade Association (STA) at the National Trust’s offices in Victoria concluded with a commitment to forming a work group partnering the STA with various conservation groups.

The round table ‘Solar Farms for Nature Conservation’ was attended by representatives of groups including the National Trust and the Royal Society of the Protection for Birds (RSPB) and explored issues including the STA’s 10 Commitments’ document, the need for the industry to step up efforts to engage with the general public and grid connectivity. 

The ’10 Commitments’ is a document for best practise guidelines that solar farm planners should follow published by the STA in August. Ray Noble argued that guidance documents such as the '10 Commitments' should be considered ‘living’ documents, to be amended and added to as best practise became clearer.

Support from conservation groups appeared to be forthcoming, although in the case of RSPB representative Harry Huyton, this support was qualified by the need to operate within an agreed framework of best practices formulated by conservation groups and industry bodies working together. James Lloyd of the National Trust explained the Trust’s proactive approach to renewable energy generation, and how examination of energy use had led to a wider debate on land use.

Independent biodiversity specialist Dr Guy Parker described a comparative study of two solar farm sites against two unused pieces of agricultural land. Although taken from a small sample size, the research showed much higher population numbers for bees, butterflies and wildflowers, three indicators used by ecologists to determine the efficacy of conservation methods.

A cautionary note was sounded regarding the difficulty of balancing site selection for biodiversity against the need for grid connectivity.

The meeting concluded with the agreement that STA would attempt to convene a work group consisting of PV industry representatives and conservation groups. Either the STA or the National Solar Centre is likely to take the lead role, with the STA's Leonie Green stating that it would be important that the collective group was able to meet and consult with government bodies including the department for communities and local government (CLG), department for environment, food and rural affairs (DEFRA) and the department for energy and climate change (DECC). The possibility of publishing collected materials from the round table was also raised.

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