It was inevitable that with the announcement of the Public Inquiry for the Rampisham Down Solar Farm, the developers would break cover and start a media campaign to persuade the public that their position is the right one.
So it begins. An article on an industry website Solar Power Portal reports that Rampisham owners and all round Solar subsidy farmers, British Solar Renewables, have apparently released a report which they claim to prove that the solar farm poses no threat to the wildlife at Rampisham. Remember they claimed this before, with their risible attempts to show no long term change in vegetation under solar panels by monitoring the flowers over one growing season. This claim led to one of the most comprehensive demolitions of an “environmental consultant’s” claims by Natural England, that I have ever seen.
I have been trying to find this report; “a significant ecological study” according to Solar Power Portal, but with no success. I wonder where it is – anything being submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for the Public Inquiry should be in the public domain. But I suspect this report is just an update of the one from last year, perhaps with another two whole months of vegetation monitoring. BSR have been playing this one card all along, that they have proved already that the solar panels (yet to be constructed) will have no effect on the vegetation and associated animals on Rampisham Down. But, however much they may crow about being “scientific”, all the scientists involved will know in their heart of hearts that this is an entirely unscientific claim, based on one year’s monitoring, on an inadequate number of samples, which fail to take into account some critical variables.
An industry analyst Finlay Colville was also quoted in the story. He appears to have swallowed the BSR bait, hook line and sinker, saying
Until the end of 2014, BSR’s engagement with all relevant parties appeared to be of a highly collaborative nature, seeking to pacify all potential objections in a professional manner. From the start of 2015, it would appear that there is more intent now from BSR to simply make this site happen, and that enough-is-enough.
“While the case has been called in for review, the fact that the case went the public inquiry appeal route may actually end up to BSR’s advantage. Either way, there is likely to be serious sums of money involved pending the final decision of the inquiry, and what could have been a win-win situation if dealt with differently last year, may now only have one winner and one out-of-pocket loser.”
Now apart from anything else, how would Mr Colville know exactly what BSR’s engagement with all relevant parties was? He hadnt even spoken to Dorset Wildlife Trust; and Natural England don’t even get a mention. And the fact the site is nationally, possibly internationally important for its wildlife is also ignored.
BSR has also posted three short youtube films about Rampisham. I have only watched two of them as I didnt feel the need to put myself through listening to Councillor Jill Haynes again, after her performance at the West Dorset Planning Committee. The first film is Rampisham Scenery and shows a flowery scene, much as I described recently.
Pignut flowers wave in the breeze and the soundtrack is full of the song of skylarks. There’s a close of up the sward showing some flowers as well. It looks very nice. The next film is of an interview with Professor Ghillean Prance intercut with scenes showing Rampisham as brown and rank, because they were taken in the winter before the site had some grazing. Prance sounds like he is talking from a script – he praises BSR as if they were RSPB, and says Rampisham is a “trashed environment”. Prance criticises Natural England and claims that no plants at Rampisham are “really seriously endangered”, ignoring the nine Red Data Book species that occur there; let alone the importance of the site for Waxcap fungi, which has not even been fully elucidated yet.
I find it shocking, that a Professor of Botany and former Director of Kew Gardens should be so dismissive of the value of the plant communities and species at Rampisham Down.