RESIDENTS and wildlife enthusiasts have hit out at Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's plans for a solar farm in the Cotswold Water Park saying it will destroy the area and damage nature.

The WWT application for the array of 4,186 panels at Sandpool Farm in Poole Keynes has caused widespread anger with many critics saying the organisation has not made its plans widely known.

An article on the plans on the Standard website earlier this month prompted 135 comments – more than on any other in a decade – with the discussion still continuing after more than two weeks.

Concerns raised in the discussion include the impact on the wildlife, the damage to the visual appearance of the area and a perceived lack of public consultation by the WWT.

Vivienne Jones runs the Cotswold Willow Pool bed and breakfast – which borders the site – with her husband Stephen and said she was deeply concerned about the plans. 

"We are in the oldest and most established part of the Water Park," she said. "It is nationally important and it’s the Wildlife Trust of all people who are thinking about taking it away."

The site also borders Clattinger Farm, which was recently designated a coronation meadow by the Prince of Wales in commemoration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Mrs Jones added: "This project would scar this idyllic landscape – it is a commercial enterprise and inappropriate use of trust land. It would signal that nature reserves are fair game and open season for developers."

The WWT's Steve Webb told the Standard the area was a former sand and gravel extraction site and is classified as "poor grade agricultural land".

“In itself the site is currently not of any great ecological value, but under the management of the Trust it has been enhanced to create habitat for the terrestrial phase of the Great Crested Newt and for lizards and grass snakes,” he said.

A spokesman from the Government body Natural England said the organisation had only recently become aware of the plans and would be considering them.

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s director of Conservation Colin Studholme told the Standard the organisation – which is not affiliated to Wiltshire Wildlife Trust – did not consider the plans to be damaging to the wildlife of the area.

“Even though this is a wildlife reserve it doesn’t have a natural interest – it is a former landfill site so there is no reason we would object to it, ” he said.

“Although residents may be concerned about the visual impact this is not part of our objection.

“Global climate change is one of the biggest threats to wildlife so it may be that this will benefit them.”

If the plans go ahead each solar panel at the 2.1 hectare site will be 16.4cm by 9.9cm and generate enough electricity to power 225 homes.

Although the application was due to be discussed at last week’s meeting of Cotswold District Council’s planning committee, a spokesman from the authority said the had to be deferred until July’s meeting due to a delay in sending out letters to interested parties.

For a detailed look at the plans click here

ONE of the main concerns raised in the discussion on the Standard website is the impact the proposal could have on wildlife in the area.

Maggie Bradshaw from nearby Swillbrook Farm said she and her neighbours had serious concerns over how the area’s rich wildlife population would be affected if the plans go ahead.

"The wildlife won’t be able to travel across the solar array area, she said.

"We shouldn’t risk our wildlife because it’s so precious."

Steve Webb said the trust had worked to create habitats for great crested newts, lizards and grass snakes at the site and would continue to do so as part of the solar farm plans.

"Sandpool is used by deer, badgers and foxes and these will still be able to freely roam the site much as they do now," he said.

"Unlike some arrays which install six-foot deer fencing this array will have normal stock fencing similar to that surrounding the existing livestock fields at Sandpool."

He added sheep would also graze on the land.

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: A location plan of the proposed solar array at Sandpool Farm

A location plan of the proposed solar array at Sandpool Farm

SEVERAL residents around Sandpool Farm have said they were not aware of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s plans before they were reported on the Standard website earlier this month.

Although a public consulation was held at Lower Moor Farm Visitor Centre on January 10, wildlife enthusiast Maggie Bradshaw, who lives at nearby Swillbrook, said very few residents were aware it was taking place.

"I wasn’t notifed about the consultation and I live within a mile and no one in my row of cottages was either," she said.

"I know people in Poole Keynes and I don’t know anyone there who was told.

"The clerk of Poole Keynes Parish Council wasn’t notified until after it had happened."
Steve Webb said the public consultation run by Bath and West Community Energy (BWCE) was attended by 27 people, with feedback showing 92 per cent were in favour of the project.

"Some local people have said that they did not receive a letter and we can only apologise if this is indeed the case," he said.

"Some local parish councillors were unfortunately omitted from the original delivery of letters. As soon as this BWCE were aware of this error BWCE made contact with all of these people to make them aware of the project."

He added the plans had also been on display at the visitor centre since January.

  • A selection of the comments on the Standard’s article about the solar farm:

This ugly installation will become even uglier when security fencing, lighting and alarms are added - what a great wildlife experience that is going to make!
- Willowherb

I know GWT aren't as wealthy as WWT but selling their souls surely isn't in their remit.....not in my book anyway....if they don't fight this then here's another subscriber walking away.
- claireseagull

This is wrong on so many levels. Firstly this land was purchased for cattle grazing and as part of the nature reserve. Whilst WWT did very little to the land this created a superb habitat for a variety of wildlife. I personally have seen buzzards and barn owls hunting over this area; seen badgers making their way along the paths; foxes bringing up their families and numerous species of reptile and plants.
- joboothy

Wiltshire Wildlife appear to be putting the protection of this special part of the countryside and its flora and fauna to one side for purely financial reasons. To state that it is a means of creating energy whilst minimising the affects of doing so on the environment can be no greater paradox.
- gjbjay

WW want to convey the message that significantly more renewable is necessary to have a worthwhile effect on global warming. To get this message to a massive audience they could liaise with local supermarkets and get panels placed over their parking areas (they're doing this in Sweden, US, etc and it looks fabulous). Profits would be generated for local environmental projects. WW would maintain our respect and we would continue to support them.
- Willowherb

I am director of a UK renewable company and am seriously concerned about the impact on public perception of renewables from a decision to commercialise and exploit a nature reserve. I am also sad that the reputation of the wildlife trust will be tainted by this misguided endeavour.
- kfghasdkjf

Join in the discussion below. 

See below for a selection of documents related to the application.