A new document was released last week which describes good practice and opportunities to manage small livestock enterprises and ground mounted solar panels concurrently. The "Agricultural Good Practice guidance for Solar Farm" has been developed by a number of UK solar farm developers and organisations concerned with agriculture as well as the NFU.
Why has this come about?
Field scale arrays of ground mounted PV panels are a relatively new development seen in Britain only since 2011. As part of the “10 Commitments” of good practice, the majority of solar farm developers actively encourage multi-purpose land use, through continued agricultural activity or agri-environmental measures that support biodiversity, yielding both economic and ecological benefits.
In many planning applications for large scale ground mounted systems it is often included that the land between and under the rows of PV modules, should be available for grazing of small livestock. There are obvious practical considerations with larger animals including horses and cattle, as well as pigs and goats which may cause damage to cabling, however sheep and free ranging poultry can be used to manage grassland surrounding the panels.
Opportunities for cutting hay or silage or strip cropping of high value vegetables or non-food crops need careful layout with regard to size of machinery, however other productive options (for example bee keeping) could be used. The aim is, that the terms of the solar farm agreement should include a grazing plan which maintains access to land by the farmer, ideally in a form that enables the farmer to claim support through the Basic Payment Scheme.
This guidance covers lots of different aspects of management for solar farms and livestock and includes:
Conservation grazing for biodiversity
- Solar farm design and layout
- Eligibility for CAP support and greening measures
- Long term management, permanent grassland and SSSI designation
- Good practice in construction and neighbourliness
- Research needs
As well as this it has some case studies of different farmers who are managing to successfully combine solar modules and farming including:
Benbole Farm, Wadebridge – One of the first solar farms developed in Britain in 2011, this 1.74MW installation on a 4ha site is grazed by a flock of 20 geese. A community scheme enables local residents to benefit from free domestic solar panels and other green energy projects.
Higher Hill, Somerset – A third generation farmer, installed a 5MW solar farm on his own land. Located near Glastonbury the site has been grazed by sheep since its inception in 2011.
Wyld Meadow Farm, Dorset – Farmers continue to graze their own Poll Dorset sheep on this 4.8MW solar farm established in 2012 on 11ha. The solar farm was designed to have very low visual impact locally with an agreement to ensure livestock grazing throughout the project’s lifetime.
For more information and to download the guidance click here.