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AI shines a light on the biodiversity of solar farms

Sustainability

Using cutting-edge techniques, a project monitors the impact of solar farms on local pollinators

Spotted: Pollinators such as the humble bumblebee are key to the long-term survival of our ecosystems, but human activity and climate change are putting them under threat. Even green infrastructure can be damaging if it’s not built and managed with biodiversity in mind, and this is what a new collaborative project hopes to monitor. 

Scientists from Lancaster University, in partnership with renewable energy company Low Carbon, are conducting landmark research to track the impact of solar farms on local pollinators at Westmill Solar Park in Oxfordshire, in what the team claims is a world-first for renewable asset sites.

Traditional insect survey methods provide static snapshots of biodiversity at set points throughout the year, but leave out a wealth of dynamic data that site managers need to assess and understand the complex relationship between microclimates introduced by solar farms and local pollinator populations. Lancaster University researchers have plugged this data gap by using AI and monitoring devices that listen to insects to assess the dynamics and biodiversity of insect pollinators in real time. This data is being combined with Automated Monitoring of Insects (AMI) traps and traditional field surveys for a detailed overview.

The study is ongoing, and lead researcher Hollie Blaydes says that “data we collect will also tell us more about how pollinators respond to solar farms, compared to similar land uses, which is key when trying to embed biodiversity benefits into solar developments.” According to initial findings, solar sites seem to have a positive impact on degraded land that can no longer grow significant volumes of food, as it allows the land time to rest and regenerate.

Funding for the study is being provided by Low Carbon and the UKRI Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Impact Acceleration Account, and builds on previous research by Blaydes that champions the use of solar farms to improve pollinator biodiversity.

Written By: Oscar Williams

Email: h.blaydes@lancaster.ac.uk

Website: lancaster.ac.uk/lec

Contact: lancaster.ac.uk/lec/contact

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