50 larks among abundance of birdlife spotted at Dutch solar farm

At Solarcentury we design and manage our solar farms to enhance biodiversity. A review of our projects in the Netherlands makes reassuring reading and offers insights we can build on. 

Designs with nature in mind 

Solar panels are positioned to encourage rainwater and sunlight to reach the ground below. In the Netherlands, 25% of the ground is left uncovered alongside the panels, leaving a space for wildlife that’s well managed, with little disturbance, no use of pesticides and limited mowing.

This space and tranquility brings wildlife without much interference. But we enhance what’s on site by digging pools for water-dwellers and installing homes for insects and small mammals. We plant native plants and trees, working with wildlife experts such as Dutch organisation Honey Highway, who advise us on what to sow to encourage wild bees. 

A pair of swans at Vlagtwedde solar farm
A pair of swans at Vlagtwedde solar farm

A birdwatcher’s haven

In the South of the Netherlands, Budel solar farm is a brownfield site, formally a zinc factorys landfill site. In 2019, just one year after the solar farm was completed, diverse vegetation had rooted and with it came insectsthen insect-eating birds such as the skylark. Known for its song, the lark has all but disappeared from the Netherlands. But last spring no fewer than 25 pairs had nested.  

Other species are also present in large numbers, and Budel has become a choice location for local birdwatchers, spotting curlews, meadow pipits, grey shrikes and red-breasted parakeet, and birds of prey such as buzzards, kestrels and peregrine falcons. Roe deer, wild boar and foxes have also found their way under the fences to graze and take cover at the solar farm. 

Roe deer at Budel solar farm

An iterative process  

No two sites are the same, and a study of the surrounding landscape is important to work out what will suit that location. Then further ecological studies allow us to delve deeper, including identifying species that already thrive there; we would abandon development if a solar farm was going to negatively impact any endangered species.

During planning we discuss the project in detail with local residents, from access routes to investment opportunities, but biodiversity is always the key topic for the majority – working together can lead to fantastic schemes. At Masterveldweg in eastern Netherlands, the solar farm covers 61 hectares which includes 25 hectares dedicated to planting for nature. This came about after collaboration with an ecologist and a local agricultural nature conservation association.

There have been occasions when some residents don’t welcome extra wildlife, concerns that birds could ruin their fruit trees or that natural vegetation would lead to weeds in their fields. In such cases planting at a solar farm is reconsidered or zoned appropriately.

Pheasants at Twence solar farm

Building knowledge

The value of solar farms for nature is well known within the industry, but formal research is still in its infancySolarcentury is involved in project led by Wageningen University looking at how different solar panel layouts affect the quality of the nature. We also work with the Holland Solar Trade Organisation on a scheme that certifies solar farms that benefit nature. 

We conduct our own initiatives too. For example integrating a Tiny Forest into the plans – a dense indigenous forest the size of a tennis courtAnd we’re working on further international initiatives on the same theme, linking sustainable energy to biodiversity improvements. 

A fox visiting Budel solar farm

We’re convinced that the benefits of sustainable energy should not only be felt at a national scale but also locally, and aspire to build solar farms offering safe spaces for nature to thrive.

Article adapted from original Dutch piece, available here.