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Solar Power and the 'Impacts' to UK Farmland

CEC tackles some of the misconceptions regarding the impacts of solar farms to the country's farmland and take a look at some of the other uses of land in the UK by comparison...

Some would argue that large solar farms use up farmland that should be used for growing food or livestock. The newly appointed Prime Minister, Liz Truss supports this, having previously stated that solar farms are hazardous for rural communities and food supply. Is this a reason to object against solar farms or are there other factors that should be considered?

We should remember that solar farms are temporary structures and there is no permanent loss of farmland. On the contrary, it allows for enhancement of the local habitat, for both passive and proactive reasons. The land is rested from the normal cycle of intensive farming so better yields can be achieved after the solar farm has been removed at the end of the project life.

Recent biodiversity audits conducted on solar parks found that they provide greater biodiversity and habitat provision, flood mitigation, carbon storage, soil erosion mitigation and increased pollination rates. Solar farms can still be used to farm crops and graze livestock. It is beneficial to co-locate croplands and solar farms in a practice known as agrivoltaics, which increases land productivity. Growing crops and producing renewable energy at the same time means farmers can increase their profits, as well as improving solar penetration.

However, if one was minded to take this negative view on solar farms as is so often the case, why not also adopt this stance towards other non-farming land uses? For instance:

· Golf Courses – Approximately 2,270 golf courses (667,184 acres) covering 2% of the UK total land area - Covering more of England than housing.

· Football pitches – Approximately 8,939 council owned football pitches (17,878 acres)

· Cricket Pitches – Approximately 7,500 cricket clubs in the UK (15,000 acres)

· Highways agency – Land surrounding the road network – stretches (74,131 acres)

By no means am I suggesting that these recreational land uses are abolished or reduced in favour of solar farming – indeed, not all land would be suitable. However, it is interesting to consider the scale of non-farming activity in rural locations, on land which could otherwise be contributing to the UK’s ‘Net Zero by 2050’ target.

Additionally, UK farmland makes up 42,749,230 acres - 71% of the UK land total. Much farmed soil has been drained of its natural nutrients and now relies on artificial inputs like fertilizer. Furthermore, agriculture is a major emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for 10% of total UK emissions. Introducing renewable energy measures for a temporary period, will allow for land to reset over time.

Solar Farms currently account for 40,000 acres in the UK. To be able to power the whole country the UK would require approximately 7,336,558 acres of land which would take up 12% of landmass. There are many other renewable energy methods available, which would reduce the amount/type of land required however the current land available and the benefits of solar energy is evidentially advantageous to economic and environmental causes. Land is precious, and there are tradeoffs between designating enough to grow food and reserving it for other vital functions.

Whilst I agree with the Prime Minister's stance on land use for farming, we must understand that there are many other factors at play that should be determined and carefully considered prior to any solar farm proposals.

Charlie Jones - CEC Land Associate


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