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Southill Solar Farm

Without wishing to tempt providence, our walks this spring have all been in sunshine and our visit to Southill Solar Farm on Saturday 14 May was similarly glorious.

Nineteen people gathered to meet ecologist Dr Anne Miller who talked about the history of the biodiversity project, before walking around the 16-hectare area.

The concept of a solar farm began in 2013 and this was inevitably followed by considerable funding and planning negotiations. Panels were finally constructed in 2016 on the lower area of the land, leaving 60% of the area for conservation.

The land varies in soil type; the central area being Cotswold brash, while the western section contains pockets of clay, hence the opportunity for different management. Much of the land had previously been used for arable, so there was little goodness in the soil. This was planted with limestone grassland with the 5-metre margins of ‘tussocky’ grassland to encourage ground-nesting birds, particularly skylarks, which we heard singing, and other wildlife. A variety of fruit trees has been planted along the edges. A variety of butterflies was noted, including small heaths.

The western, clay area was sown with 50% pollinator seed and 50% bird friendly seed. By 2017 thistles and ragwort were rampant on the limestone grassland and had to be reduced and reseeded with locally grown seed. The clay area was ‘gardened’ with suitable varieties but became overwhelmed by thistles and dock.

Our walk around the margins of the land took us north, to an area of old non-farmed meadow. It was fascinating to see the difference in vegetation. Here there are three beehives, heated by solar panels. They are lined with copper frames and, apparently successfully, heat the hives to a temperature at which Varroa mites are killed but the bees survive.

What became apparent during our visit is the enormity of the project and the difficulty in maintaining the ecological balance of encouraging wildlife friendly vegetation while deterring the ‘thugs’: thistles, dock etc. Mob grazing would be an advantage but is logistically and financially difficult.    

Volunteer work is popular and very helpful. Anyone wishing to volunteer with Friends of Southill Solar should contact Julia Reid who will give them Anne Miller’s email address.

Julia Reid

A species list of plants and butterflies can be found here.