Press Release 02/04/2024

Ecological design of solar farms can help wildlife, but not all species benefit

Raymond Klaassen shares results

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A more ecological layout of solar parks with shrubs and bushes is good for biodiversity. That's according to the initial results of a five-year study conducted by the University of Groningen (RUG), in collaboration with the Province of Groningen and Novar. However, not all species benefit from ecologically designed solar parks. Field birds such as skylarks stay away.

The research began in 2022. Over the past year, researchers mapped soil, vegetation, insects, mammals and birds at three large solar parks in the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe. These parks differ in distances between solar panels and in the decoration of the edge of the park with shrubs or flower strips. The final results of the study are expected by the end of 2027.

Initial recommendations

The first research results show that there is much to be gained in the (ecological) management of solar parks. For example, increasing the distance between the solar panels, mowing the grass between the rows of panels once or twice and allowing areas to become grassy appear to be good for biodiversity. For some field birds, it is necessary to make the distance between the solar panels even larger, or the adjacent area must become more attractive. Furthermore, when constructing a solar farm, it is important to prevent compaction of the soil. For example, by using lighter machinery.

More bird, mouse and butterfly species

The study focused on birds, mice, butterflies and plants. In the three solar parks studied, higher densities of mice and butterflies were observed than in nearby agricultural areas. Some bird species also fared better. These findings show that solar parks can provide not only renewable energy but also a plus for nature.

'The preliminary results of our study are promising,' says researcher Dr. Raymond Klaassen, project leader of the study. 'They challenge the commonly held view that solar parks are harmful to nature. With careful planning and management, we can both produce green energy and support nature. That biodiversity benefits from solar parks is also because the initial situation - large-scale arable fields - offers little room for nature.'

Compensation measures for field birds

'Species that like more rugged vegetation and shrubs benefit from solar parks. These are the specific habitats that develop abundantly within solar parks, but are less to be found in adjacent arable land,' adds PhD student Sylvia de Vries. She is conducting the five-year study. 'Species of open fields do not seem to benefit; skylarks, for example, stay away from them. This is also an important result, because now that we know this, we can think about how we can make the construction of parks positive for these species. This will require a more extensive design of solar parks or just compensation measures outside the parks'.

You can read the interim report here: Interim Report Ecological Survey.

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