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Environmental benefits at the heart of new solar research partnership - University of Exeter

In an industry first, EDF Renewables UK and Nature Positive have today announced a long-term academic partnership with the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) to study the ecological effects of solar farms at Longfield Solar Farm.

This partnership – the first in what EDF Renewables UK expects to be long-term research programme – will examine the effects large-scale solar farms can have on soil health, fauna, wildlife habitats and carbon flux under and adjacent to arrays.

An experimental area of approximately 50 hectares within the site will allow researchers to test different management regimes and compare areas of solar panels with undeveloped agricultural land, providing evidence on the potential for land under solar farms to generate net benefits for biodiversity, carbon and soil quality.

The outputs of the research will influence ecological initiatives at Longfield Solar Farm – a new solar farm with battery storage in Essex capable of providing enough clean, secure energy to power up to 96,000 homes every year.

Construction on its main site is expected to begin next year, with some early works already completed on site – including over six acres of advanced planting of new trees and hedgerows.

Announcing the partnership today, Matthew Boulton, Director of Solar, Storage and Private Wire at EDF Renewables UK, said: “This research is critical to our commitment to balancing the creation of renewable energy with the protection of our important green spaces and we are thrilled to be partnering with the University of Exeter to make it happen. Having robust data will be invaluable for measuring the tried and tested biodiversity improvements we already make, while also informing future decision-making to maximise biodiversity improvements on each of our solar farms.”

As images of Kent’s newest seal pups flood social media, conservationists issue stark warning - Kent Wildlife Trust

As adorable images of Kent’s newest seal pups are posted to social media, Kent Wildlife Trust has issued a warning that people risk inadvertently killing the youngsters if they get too close.

Seal and pup by River Runner
Seal and pup by River Runner

11 pups have been born in East Kent and responsible tour operators in Sandwich have posted their heartwarming photos and footage of the new arrivals resulting in a flurry of likes and comments.

Protected Area Warden for Sandwich and Pegwell Bay, Nina Jones warns that disturbing the young pups could lead to their demise: “Seal disturbance is a huge problem and often comes from a lack of understanding. It is important that these sensitive marine mammals are left alone, and worth noting that using watercraft in a way that risks the safety of wildlife is an offence under Thanet Coastal by-laws. If anyone sees a seal pup that is unaccompanied, do not approach it and under no circumstances pick it up. The pup’s mother will be nearby, searching for food or resting and by touching it there is a high chance that the pup will be abandoned and perish. A rescue centre recently had to care for a seal pup which was brought in with its umbilical cord still attached because a member of the public picked it up to show to their friends and the pup was abandoned. Pups will spend the first four to six weeks of their lives reliant on their mothers before they can begin to fend for themselves, so please give them space and the peace they need to survive. If you think a seal is in distress report it to the British Divers Marine Life Rescue service by ringing their hotline on 01825 765546. We are lucky to have some excellent tour operators in Sandwich who have training on watching seals safely through the WISE accreditation scheme, this is the best way to see them and makes a wonderful day out. Alternatively, take your binoculars and a walk along Pegwell Bay and watch them interact from afar.”

Rare plant thriving on Ochils crags - NatureScot

Sticky catchfly flowers ©Lindsay Mackinlay
Sticky catchfly flowers ©Lindsay Mackinlay

Numbers of one of Scotland’s rarest plants have more than trebled on the craggy slopes of Dumyat in the Ochil Hills, a new survey has found.

Around 10,000 flowering stems of sticky catchfly were counted by volunteers during a three-day survey on crags south of the summit this summer.

The numbers are up from around 3,000 flowering stems in 2013 and represent at least of fifth of the known British population.

Sticky catchfly is a nationally rare species with fewer than 18 populations scattered across Britain. The plant has a long-recorded history in Scotland and is said to have been admired by James VI on the crags of Arthur’s Seat.

It has sadly declined and disappeared from many of its former locations, with overgrazing and gorse encroachment pushing surviving colonies onto inaccessible cliff faces.

The crags and screes of the Ochils remain the national stronghold for the plant, which can be identified by its showy pink flowers and sticky stem that prevents herbivorous insects such as aphids from climbing up. It is thought that these trapped insects act as fertiliser for the roots, falling to the ground when the flowers die back.

The survey was led and coordinated by the Future Forest Company (FFC) on its land at Dumyat in collaboration with NatureScot, local naturalists, the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI), TCV Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the University of Edinburgh, which is also working to increase the local populations on its nearby land at Drumbrae.

Since taking over management of the Dumyat site in 2021, FCC have embarked on a native woodland and nature restoration programme, removing sheep and reducing numbers of roe deer around the crags. The survey estimated that only 10% of the current plants showed signs of browsing.

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