Solar - Great crested newts

Puriton Solar Farm, Puriton, Somerset

Background

 Stratus Environmental Ltd were seeking planning permission for a solar farm occupying three individual parcels of land totalling approximately 26 ha.

Action

 Application of the AEcol Predictive Ecological Assessment System in the early stages of the scheme had shown there was potential for great crested newts to be present in waterbodies three ponds within the site and a further two in close proximity. As great crested newts are legally protected their presence is a material consideration for the Planning Authority. Great crested newt survey was therefore required.

 AEcol performed the survey and found that great crested newts were indeed present in one on-site pond and the two off-site ponds. However, we were also able to demonstrate that all three ponds were deteriorating in quality and show that the ongoing survival of the population was by no means certain. We therefore wrote an Ecological Management plan including various improvements that might be brought about by approval of the solar farm scheme, these included: low-intensity grazing of grassland; cessation of fertiliser and herbicide treatment to improve botanical diversity and thereby improve the foraging habitat for great crested newts; and significant enlargement, deepening and enhancement of the on-site pond.

  In addition, following consultation with the client; Stratus Environmental Ltd, all construction and enhancement works were timed for performance in the winter months in order to reduce the potential impacts upon great crested newts to a minimum and avoid the need for expensive temporary exclusion fencing.

Outcome

 Planning permission has been approved and an application is now in for the necessary Natural England licence to allow the great crested newt pond to be restored. The scheme is therefore on-track to be successfully completed from concept through to construction within only a little over a year; start to finish.