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UK Solar Parks Provide Essential Resources to Avert Bee and Butterfly Decline

According to a new study, well-managed solar parks in the UK can supply essential resources to help stop the decline of the bee and butterfly populations in the country.

Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies on a UK solar park. Image Credit: Hollie Blaydes

The University of Reading and Lancaster University scientists conducted the recent study, which was published in the journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence. With 15 locations covered, it offers the first peer-reviewed field data on insect pollinators in solar parks in the UK.

The researchers counted around 1,400 pollinators from over 30 species, including close to 900 butterflies, over 170 hoverflies, over 160 bumble bees, moths, and honeybees.

The species that was most frequently seen was the meadow brown butterfly. Two-thirds of the solar parks had bumble bee observations, and three of them had small heath butterfly observations—a species of priority for biodiversity.

Their field data, collected through repeated surveys in the summer of 2021, reveals that two crucial factors—the features of the surrounding landscape and the flowering plants accessible to pollinators within solar farms—are at play in determining whether solar parks can become beneficial to pollinators.

Increased pollinator numbers and biodiversity inside solar parks were mostly due to the availability of a wider variety of flowering plant species. In parks with more diversity of flowering plants, there were more hoverflies, butterflies, and bumblebees.

The study also shows that a diversity of flowering species to choose from is more beneficial to pollinators than a large quantity of flowering plants.

The surrounding landscape was also an important influencing element. Solar parks maintained for biodiversity in detached landscapes with fewer characteristics, such as hedgerows, tend to help pollinators the best.

The researchers believe this is because pollinating insects are more reliant on the food supplies available in solar parks than they would be in landscapes with more food and habitat possibilities.

Pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies have been in dramatic decline in recent years and there is a need to restore more resources for these species in our landscapes. One potential option is to use sites such as solar parks to help benefit biodiversity – however, until now empirical evidence has been lacking around how, and which, solar parks might best support pollinators.

Hollie Blaydes, Study Lead Author and Senior Research Associate, Lancaster University

Blaydes added, “We have shown that through management decisions such as planting a variety of flowering plants, solar parks can support insect pollinators and also those communities can be relatively diverse and abundant - particularly in those landscapes where there are few hedgerows and wildflowers for pollinators to depend on.

Professor Alona Armstrong, also of Lancaster University and Principal Investigator of the study, stated, “This is the first time that pollinators have been systematically and repeatedly surveyed on solar parks across the UK - building on previous modeling work. This adds to the evidence showing that solar parks, while helping to meet the UK’s renewable energy goals, and if managed correctly, also have the potential to support insect biodiversity.

The research is described in the study titled ‘On-site floral resources and surrounding landscape characteristics impact pollinator biodiversity at solar parks.’

The authors of the study include Lancaster University’s Hollie Blaydes, Professor Duncan Whyatt, and Professor Alona Armstrong, as well as the University of Reading’s Professor Simon Potts.

The Natural Environment Research Council financed the study, which also received assistance from Low Carbon.

Journal Reference:

Blaydes, H., et. al. (2024) On-site floral resources and surrounding landscape characteristics impact pollinator biodiversity at solar parks. Ecological Solutions and Evidence. doi:10.1002/2688-8319.12307.

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