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Wiltshire solar project planning application focuses on biodiversity enhancement

Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy (WWCE) are in the last stages of preparing a planning application for their 1.5 MW community-owned solar array on Petersfinger Farm, near Salisbury.

The project, which would generate enough electricity to power up to 430 households, has secured a total of £140,000 through the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) to support its development from feasibility through to financial closure.

WWCE have also made a commitment to invest surplus income from the project into community-led carbon reduction and biodiversity initiatives in the local Parishes of Clarendon Park, Britford & Alderbury through the group’s Community Grant Fund.

As with all new developments, following the 2021 Environment Act, the solar farm at Petersfinger must demonstrate that it will result in a net positive impact on biodiversity of 10% according to the government’s Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) metric. Ecologists demonstrate this by mapping the habitat types present on the landholding pre-development, then assigning a score to each based on size and condition. The impact of habitat loss caused by the development is then quantified, along with the improvement of existing unharmed habitats through prescribed management.

In general amount of habitat lost through solar developments is low due to the small footprint of the mounting structure on the land. At Petersfinger, the solar farm and associated buildings will have a footprint of under 2% of the size of the land on which it sits. Grassland among the panels will be enhanced through low-intensity ‘conservation’ grazing. As well as improving the floral diversity of the grassland, the vegetation will reduce flood risk by improving the structure of the soil.

Once the planning application is submitted, local residents will be able to submit comments on the proposed developments. Thereafter, if the community solar farm goes ahead, and once it is ready to build, WWCE will raise the capital to build the solar farm through a community investment offer. Local residents will have priority to invest before the share offer opens to national investors.

Julian Barlow of WWCE, said: “We are thrilled that RCEF has supported WWCE in the development of Petersfinger Solar Farm. It is yet another gleaming example of the array of benefits resulting from community-owned renewable generation: green power, improved biodiversity, funding for local community projects.”