Rampisham Downs Factcheck #3: Professor Ghillean Prance’s speech in favour of buiding a Solar Factory on a SSSI

British Solar Renewables have just published Professor Ghillean Prance’s speech for them to the West Dorset District Council Planning Committee, when they met to decide whether to approve the development of a Solar Factory on Rampisham Down SSSI.

I reproduce it here in full for your information.

Professor Prance said:

“I am a botanist and ecologist with a huge concern about stopping climate change because it is already affecting so many biological habitats around the world. I am the former Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and have written over 250 scientific articles and 23 books on related topics. We must change to non-carbon dioxide producing sources of energy as soon as possible, this includes nuclear energy, but the sun the wind and tide are our best sources in the UK.

I have visited Rampisham Down several times over the past 18 months and walked over it extensively. I have found a very degraded and often impacted habitat and no unusually rare plant species in the grassland. I see that bracken is increasing considerably and changing the Down from U4 grassland. Bracken will need urgent attention by whoever manages Rampisham in future and British Solar Renewables is already consulting a bracken expert Dr. Stephen Holoway.

I was involved in the planning of the shading experiments that have taken place and feel that the results of this work if carried on over a full year will be of significance to solar arrays far beyond Rampisham. This is an important scientific work with publishable results. The resulting data are already attracting interest from DEFRA and other agencies. The proposed use of translucent solar panels is innovative and will greatly reduce the effects of shading. I am now confident that shading from the panels will have little effect on the grassland underneath if properly grazed.

I cannot see why Natural England is resisting this project. I have not before worked with such a collaborative land owner or company. They are doing all they can to consider the environment, leaving the least disturbed and better part of the U4 grassland intact, over 50% of the area. The solar array as planned, looked at from directly above actually covers only 19% of area and effects only 23% in any way.

Our understanding of the SSSI and our ability to manage the impact of the solar farm is based on experience, field analysis and fact. Objectors to the scheme, including Dorset Wildlife Trust, who are more distant from those facts necessarily have a less credible understanding of the impact.

May I conclude by reminding you that U4 grassland is a transitional man-made habitat and there are no botanical species of concern to me on Rampisham Down. Please approve this project so that 10,180 more homes can get renewable energy and in a small but significant way help to stop climate change.”

I have already commented on Professor Prance’s involvement with the project and also some of the errors in his statement so I will not go over that ground again.

On the question of how many homes will get renewable energy from Rampisham, I have done some maths. The Load Factor for solar farms is 10%, that means that the panels will generate, over a year, 10% of the stated power. So on that basis Rampisham will generate 22000 Megawatt hours/year. Take away 10% of that for losses in transmission etc leaves a round 20,000 MWh/year. The average household uses 4MWh/year. So I calculate Rampisham will provide electricity to 5000 households, not 10,180 as Prance and BSR state. If I have done my sums wrong, please let me know. It’s also worth bearing in mind that electricity makes up 20% of the average UK household’s energy use.

About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in British Solar Renewables, Professor Ghillean Prance, Rampisham Down, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Rampisham Downs Factcheck #3: Professor Ghillean Prance’s speech in favour of buiding a Solar Factory on a SSSI

  1. John Stone says:

    He who pays the piper calls the tune

  2. Steve J says:

    It can be tricky dealing with characters like Ghillean Prance, an internationally-respected botanist for sure, but who’s probably prone, subconsciously, to compare somewhere like Rampisham (or any western European site) with the undisputed hotspots like Ecuadorian cloud forest or the Atlantic lowland forests of Brazil. In a UK context, Rampisham is clearly hugely important. It’s an SSSI – i.e. adjudged to be a nationally-imporrtant wildlife site, based on objective scientific criteria.

    And as an (honorary?) Professor, I’d expect him to have set up a somewhat more robust experimental treatment before asserting that overhead solar panels don’t ‘affect’ plant communities (and, surely, invertebrate communities too) beneath. Precisely what attributes of these is he measuring? The panels may be translucent but they are also designed to capture – i.e. filter out – something from the light hitting them. What, exactly, isn’t reaching the ground? And what physiological effects is this having on the plants beneath, in the medium to long term? Will these subtle effects lead to equally subtle changes in plant and invertebrate community structure and composition through time, and are these problematic in terms of the conservation objectives for the SSSI – will it be set on a ‘unfavourable, deteriorating’ trajectory? You can’t get at this by simply observing, say, plant structure or flower density. Of course you really need a botanical Professor to go head to head with Gillean, not at a meeting of local authority councillors, but at a public inquiry.

  3. Gwilym Wren says:

    Rather a patronising speech, and like Steve J I suspect that there is a sense that this site is ‘not worthy’ in the Profs eyes compared to others. He dismisses it out of hand, quite unlike any ecologists I have ever met – perhaps I should get out more……………..
    It is unfortunate that the UK and most of western Europe does not have any pristine habitat left, but this is why conservationists have spent so much time and effort trying to maintain site conditions to protect what is left. Here both NE and Solar Renewables want to keep the site open, neither wants succession to take place so actually this debate boils down to a straight trade off between a rare UK habitat and a solar farm that could be plonked anywhere (like over the road!).
    Prof Prance talks a good game about grazing, but operators dont like grazing (except on ‘display’ sites) because they want low cost management. Its far cheaper to spray off inconvenient growth.

  4. Pingback: Rampisham Factcheck #5: The photographs of Rampisham Down | a new nature blog

  5. Pingback: Rampisham Down in Flower: what British Solar Renewables don’t want you to see | a new nature blog

  6. Pingback: Rampisham Down Saved? | a new nature blog

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