Development sites should provide net biodiversity gain of at least 10% as mandated by the new Environment Act 2021, including Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), and could even be considered as green infrastructure assets  if designed and managed correctly by improving the environmental benefits of the land .
Any necessary mitigation should be consistent with the following biodiversity mitigation hierarchy :
Any residual impacts will need to be compensated for on-site or off-site with long term management secured, and appropriate enhancements included to ensure biodiversity net gain. Any application will be required to be supported by a completed Essex Biodiversity Validation Checklist and to guide site selection and design an ecological assessment should be undertaken based on the CIEEM - Guidelines for ecological impact assessment. Any application should make use of the Great Crested Newts District Level Licensing Scheme operated by Natural England and available in Essex.
Each solar farm is required to prepare a Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP), the purpose of which is to detail the specific objectives for biodiversity and the means by which these objectives will be achieved, including the protection of existing species and habitats, the establishment of specific enhancements, their maintenance and monitoring. Although there is a minimum mandatory 10% biodiversity net gain (BNG), we would encourage proposals to aim for a higher BNG taking into consideration that larger sites and sites of higher agricultural value should naturally seek greater BNG. It should also be noted that solar farm sites present a key opportunity to contribute to the ECAC recommendation of ‘30 per cent of all land in Essex will enhance biodiversity and the natural environment by creating natural green infrastructure. We expect these figures to be 25 per cent by 2030 and 30 per cent by 2040.’
Solar farms have been shown to increase the biodiversity of land compared to surrounding undeveloped land when managed sustainably e.g. re-seeding with species-rich wildflower mixes and/or agricultural grass mixes, benefitting wildlife as well as providing ecosystem services for people and agriculture i.e. increase in pollinating insects on solar farms promotes the health of surrounding crops . Biodiversity enhancements should be selected to fit the physical attributes of the site and complement existing habitats and species of value on and surrounding the site. If agricultural production is also planned for the site, biodiversity enhancements should aim to dovetail with these goals .
In order to achieve the best biodiversity outcomes for the site, the BMP should be developed through engagement with the Local Planning Authority, local community, the landowner and local and national conservation organisations. Any habitat enhancements should all be connected to the landscape wide multifunctional green infrastructure network to prevent fragmentation and promote biodiversity migration and a potential contribution to local Nature Recovery Networks  . Reference should be made to the Essex Green Infrastructure Strategy (2020) and Essex Green Infrastructure Standards which refer to the importance of multifunctionality of green spaces by creating a strong link between carbon reduction and nature-based solutions, citing renewable energy generation that also contributes and delivers multiple benefits to the environment, economy and to people (socially) . This further highlights that the biodiversity and climate crises can be tackled simultaneously on a bio-solar farm development. Further guidance and management will be providing through the Essex wide Local Nature Partnership along with the Local Nature Recovery Strategy (in preparation).
Page updated: 14/08/2023