Cleve Hill Solar Park

Cleve Hill Solar Park is a solar and energy storage facility located on arable farmland on the coast of north Kent. Due to the capacity of the solar park exceeding 50 megawatts (MW), the project is classified as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP).

Wirsol / Hive Energy commissioned us to provide expert witness services for ornithology during the Examination phase of the project’s application.

Key details

Project name

Cleve Hill Solar Park

 

Client

Wirsol Energy Limited, a subsidiary of the Wircon group / Hive Energy

Location

Kent

 

Services provided

- Ornithology / Expert Witness

Challenge

The project is located in close proximity to the Swale Estuary, which is designated for its important wintering and breeding bird populations. Some of those birds make use of the arable farmland habitats where the solar park will be installed. As a result, the project was subject to a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA).

Without mitigation, the project would have significant impacts on birds associated with the surrounding protected sites. Wintering birds such as Brent Goose, Lapwing and Golden Plover will be displaced from areas where the solar arrays will be located, while resident species such as Marsh Harrier could be prevented from hunting for their prey. Breeding and wintering birds could also be disturbed by construction activities during installation of the project.

It was therefore necessary to find solutions to the development’s design that could accommodate breeding and wintering birds, avoid significant disturbance and provide overall biodiversity net gain.

Three dark-bellied brent geese mid-flight

Solution

The project’s design included a variety of habitat management areas. These include a 56-hectare area of arable land converted to grassland specifically managed to provide optimal foraging habitat for Brent Goose, Lapwing and Golden Plover. The solar arrays in each field were designed with a minimum set back of 25m from ditches to allow for the creation of wide swathes of grazing marsh grassland to develop, ideal for foraging Marsh Harriers and other birds of prey.

We successfully discussed and defended these plans during the Examination held by the Planning Inspectorate, who agreed with the conclusions of our assessment. We made this possible by developing good relationships and holding frequent and constructive consultations with a steering group comprised of Natural England, RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency. We will now be supporting our client during the project’s installation, ensuring that those important plans are adhered to by the construction contractor.

 

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