Campaign groups band together to fight 'tidal wave' of solar farm proposals in countryside

Emma Wilkinson reports on the campaigners who are fighting proposals for large solar farms in their areas and have formed an alliance to push the government to do more to protect the countryside from a 'sea of panels'.

The Solar Campaign Alliance was created by the No Solar Desert campaign in North Nottinghamshire, which is trying to halt plans for a 600-acre solar farm between the conservation villages of Clayworth and Gringley-on-the-Hill. 

The site forms one part of a larger project which the developer, Island Green Power, says could provide clean energy to more than 140,000 homes. 

No Solar Desert has been fighting plans to build a 600-acre solar farm in North Nottinghamshire

The No Solar Desert group believes the site is not an appropriate location, that it would be damaging to wildlife and biodiversity and that it would result in the loss of productive farmland - concerns which are shared by their district council leader and local MP.

The Mallard Pass Action Group, which is opposing plans for a huge 2,175-acre solar farm along the border of Lincolnshire and Rutland, is also part of the alliance. Its members also have concerns about the environmental impact of the development and the loss of prime agricultural land.

If approved, Mallard Pass would become the biggest solar farm in the UK.

Site map of the proposed Mallard Pass solar farm

Sarah Price, the planning lead for Mallard Pass, said the project would be done in a way that protects wildlife habitats and benefits the local community.

She said: "The majority of energy from renewable sources is going to come from wind and solar. So large-scale solar projects are a vital part of what the UK needs to meet Net Zero. Electricity that will be provided for the project will generate enough power equivalent to roughly 92,000 homes, which is the populations of South Kesteven and Rutland combined. So it's a really positive project."

The Solar Campaign Alliance has launched a petition calling on the government to produce a regulatory framework to avoid losing a critical mass of productive agricultural land to solar.

Joanna Favill from the alliance said: "We are not against renewables and solar energy at all but at the minute there is a policy conflict between maintaining the UK's food production levels and food security and the need to produce renewable energy. 

"We think that there is currently a developer gold-rush on highly productive land and the government has a clear policy conflict that it needs to balance."

In a statement, The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said it recognises the need to preserve greenfield land.

A spokesperson said: "Solar energy developments are subject to strict planning controls to protect local communities and the environment. This includes the requirement to conduct environmental impact assessments and public consultations on planning applications."

It added that the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime is also a rigorous process designed to scrutinise larger projects.