Reducing CO2 whilst risking wildlife? The solar panel row engulfing a Newport beauty spot

A Senedd petition against the plans - and wider development on the Levels - has got more than 1,800 signatures. Credit: Media Wales / PA Images

Putting one of the UK's largest solar power stations in a renowned Welsh beauty spot would create a damaging precedent, according to local residents.

The small village of Bishton, near Newport, is renowned for its scenic views out across the Gwent Levels, which it sits at the edge of.

However, a deal has been struck between an energy company and landowners to install at least 334 acres-worth of solar panels to both the east and west of the village, starting next year.

UK-based JBM Solar, owned by German energy company RWE, estimates the power station would meet the equivalent energy needs of more than 45,000 homes and save more than 3,180,000 tones of CO2 - equivalent to planting 52 million trees.

A key concern for residents is the impact on local wildlife. Developers said the project will help protect the environment. Credit: Media Wales

Residents, however, said they could soon be "living inside a solar power station" amidst a "sea of grey panels" if plans for the Craig Y Perthi Solar Farm go ahead, as well as having concerns about damage to the rich wildlife and ecology of the area.

They also said they will receive "no tangible benefit" from the plan with, amongst other concerns, worries about the impact on house prices, and accuse JMB of "greenwashing."

The position of the Gwent Levels makes it one of the UK's largest areas of fertile land, interspersed with historic watercourses known as reens.

Campaigners want to see the Welsh Government, who will have the final say over the proposals, put a ban on major development in the area.

Mike Webb, planning manager at the Gwent Wildlife trust, said the area should be "considered to be the jewel in the crown of Wales’ wildlife and would therefore be sacrosanct from development."

Locals point to a major solar farm which already exists on the Gwent Levels, near Llanwern. The development has led to the near extinction of bat and bird species there.

However, they acknowledge the need for more green energy.

The latest data, from 2021, shows renewables generated 55% of Wales' electricity use. The Welsh Government has a target of increasing the figure to 70% by the end of the decade.

The position of the Gwent Levels makes it one of the UK's largest areas of fertile land. Credit: Media Wales

Developers argue solar farms are key in ensuring that aim is met. They also said the project will cut energy costs for consumers.

They are particularly keen on the site because, unlike elsewhere, it can be connected to the National Grid - the UK's energy system - thanks to nearby pylons.

A spokeswoman for both RWE and JBM said: "Since 2022 we have engaged in an extensive, meaningful consultation process with the local community to better understand and address the potential concerns raised."

The company has also said they will include more than 129 acres of new flower meadows, as well as creating an outdoor classroom and a community orchard.

It predicts the land it will build the panels on will be back to its current state after 40 years.

Countering arguments about damage to wildlife, the spokeswoman added: "Recent studies have found that solar farms can greatly benefit local wildlife. A recent long-term monitoring study found that green, amber, and red list bird species were all more active within solar farms when compared to a neighbouring arable farm."

They argue the solar plant will actually protect land by preventing it being used for farming, as well as providing better protection to the area against flooding.

More than 95% of the land would still be usable by sheep and chickens for grazing, with space between and underneath the panels, the energy companies added.

The Welsh Government wants 70% of Wales' energy to come from renewable sources by 2030. Credit: PA

The village, which is made up of roughly 70 houses, has a rich history. At one end are the ruins of the medieval Bishton Castle, while at the other sits St Cadwaladr's Church, which dates back to 570.

But residents insist they are not nimbies. David Fulker, who lives in the area, said: “This isn’t about our own backyard. It’s about a whole area of fertile and rich land which is home to many species that is under serious threat because of our proximity to the grid hook-up, which is what all of this boils down to."

Questioning why brownfield sites cannot be used instead, Dawn Hooper said the issue is "much bigger" than just the village of Bishton.

She added: “Everyone in Bishton is interested in renewable energy and we support all of that but this is a ridiculous scale in the wrong location. You can’t tackle climate change by dumping solar panels here."

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