UK solar parks can provide vital resources for bees and butterflies

A recent study conducted by scientists at Lancaster University, in collaboration with the University of Reading, has revealed groundbreaking findings regarding the potential of UK solar parks to support the nation’s bees and butterflies. The research, published in the journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence, provides the first peer-reviewed field data of insect pollinators at solar parks in the UK, covering 15 sites.

The study recorded approximately 1,400 pollinators across more than 30 species, including nearly 900 butterflies, over 170 hoverflies, and more than 160 bumble bees, as well as moths and honeybees. The most commonly observed species was the meadow brown butterfly, and bumble bees were observed at two-thirds of the solar parks. Additionally, the small heath butterfly, a priority biodiversity species, was observed at three of the solar parks.

The research identified two critical factors that determine whether solar parks can become beneficial to pollinators: the availability of flowering plants within the solar farms and the characteristics of the surrounding landscape. The study found that a greater diversity of flowering plant species within solar parks led to increased pollinator abundance and biodiversity. Furthermore, the number of flowering plants available was found to be less important to the pollinators than having a variety of flowering species to forage across.

The surrounding landscape was also identified as a critical determining factor. Solar parks managed for biodiversity in disconnected landscapes with fewer features, such as hedgerows, were found to benefit pollinators the most. This is because pollinating insects in such landscapes are more reliant on the food resources within the solar parks.

Hollie Blaydes, lead author of the study, emphasized the importance of restoring resources for pollinating insects in landscapes and highlighted the potential of solar parks to benefit biodiversity. Professor Alona Armstrong, Principal Investigator of the study, emphasized that while solar parks help meet the UK’s renewable energy goals, they also have the potential to support insect biodiversity if managed correctly.