East Farm is a 5MW solar plant in Dorset. The site, with its 18,500+ ground-mounted solar panels, has been designed so that it is hidden from ground view, with screening provided by surrounding hedgerow.
The site’s first power generation was in March 2017, and it now produces enough renewable energy to power the equivalent of approximately 1,500 UK homes per annum.[i] Prior to Bluefield Operations Limited (Bluefield Operations) taking over the site’s management in 2019, the site’s grass was mechanically cut twice a year.
Bluefield Operations’ objectives upon starting to manage East Farm:
- To change from mechanical cutting to grazing, which can be a more efficient and less ecologically invasive land management technique, thus helping the site operate in a more environmentally friendly manner.
- To broaden the use of the land upon which East Farm is situated by enabling it to be used for both renewable energy generation and local agricultural purposes.
Actions taken by Bluefield Operations Limited:
- Bluefield Operations integrated agrivoltaic principles (the simultaneous use of land for both solar photovoltaic power generation and agriculture) to East Farm’s management. 80 sheep were introduced to the site in May 2021 to naturally perform aspects of site maintenance such as maintaining grass length.
- Bluefield Operations collaborated with local livestock owners to implement a mutually beneficial land management agreement and livestock rota. Given the expected lifespan of solar PV technology, which can be 30+ years, these agreements can help support local agricultural activity over the long-term (including raising sheep for lambing).
Business case for sheep introduction:
Uninterrupted renewable energy production
Grass mixes are often sown in and around solar panels, helping preserve and enhance the natural environment by promoting the growth of a more diverse mix of grass species. However, if the grass grows too long, it can shade solar panels and make them operate less efficiently. Maintaining the grass length on solar sites is therefore essential for creating favourable conditions for sunlight to reach solar panels.
Natural land maintenance
Livestock, like sheep, that are small enough not to damage the solar panels, are able to naturally maintain the land of solar sites by helping to keep vegetation neatly trimmed most of the year. Whilst just as effective as mechanical cutting, sheep are a more natural and cost-effective land management option for solar sites.
Potential Environmental Benefits
Compared to mechanical cutting, livestock may help improve the health of the land and soil they graze due to their less invasive nature. When sheep are intelligently rotated around a solar site, they consume overgrown vegetation and potentially spread minerals and nutrients back into the land through their manure.
Improved agricultural opportunities and community relations
Grazing sheep on solar sites means the land can operate with a dual purpose: energy and agricultural production. Sheep are an important source of wool, dairy foods, and meat. By co-locating sheep and solar energy generation, we can better support local sheep grazers’ businesses and build stronger, more fruitful ties with local communities.
Results achieved at East Farm:
Bluefield Operations were able to reach a mutually beneficial grazing agreement with local livestock owners within a month of initiating conversations. 80 sheep were then introduced to the site in a very timely manner.
The site design, which includes two separately fenced fields, facilitates stock rotation through the movement of sheep between the two areas, preventing overgrazing. Since placing the sheep on site, they have successfully negated the need for mechanical cutting intervention through maintaining healthy grass height and preventing shading, aiding renewable energy production.
Since Bluefield Operations took on East Farm’s management, they have also encouraged 1.9 hectares of wildflower growth north of the site, which we hope will support surrounding fauna and flora.
Get in touch to learn more about how we approach land and biodiversity management across sites managed by Bluefield.
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[i] Estimates based on UK Governments 2022 GHG conversion factors and Ofgem’s Typical Domestic Consumption Values 2020