How Community Solar can Help Endangered Bee Populations

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Bee on a flower

Why are Bee Populations Declining?

For some time now we’ve been seeing headlines in the press talking about bee population decline. The reasons are many, but human action plays a key role in all of them. The continuing spread of farmland and the simultaneous destruction of wildflower meadows that support bee populations, the widespread use of certain types of pesticides, and the alterations and the damage climate change is causing to carefully balanced ecosystems are a few.

Bee population decline is dangerous because bees are a vital pollinator species and as such they play an integral part in the natural life-cycle of ecosystems. Furthermore, their decline could even affect food production because a number of crops, especially berries, nuts, and certain fruits such as kiwis, apples, mangos, plums, watermelons and others rely significantly on pollination by bees. According to a recent UN report up to 8% of global agricultural production is reliant on animal pollination. With a constantly growing population that demands more and more food, anything that threatens production on such a scale could have a widely felt impact.

Nationally, both honey bees and bumblebees have been hard hit in recent times. The main reason is the decline in suitable habitats, with the British countryside drastically changing over the last few decades to increase agricultural productivity. It has been estimated that the British countryside has lost up to 97% of its flower-rich grasslands since the 1930s. Flowers are the main source of food for bees, so it follows that such a massive reduction in their natural habitat would have a negative impact on bee population.

Among bumblebees this loss of their natural habitat is being compounded by a ‘climate vise’. As temperatures go up over time the range of many animal species appears to be moving northward, but with bumblebees in North America and Europe this range is simply shrinking. It is getting smaller in the south and staying put in the north; climate change is squeezing the bumblebee.

 

How can Community Energy Help?

Community energy, especially community solar at the scale of many of Mongoose’s member-Bencoms, can help to address this problem by providing new habitats for bees. Community solar arrays are often constructed on low grade farmland, and one of their key features are biodiversity management plans to upgrade the land and transform it into a welcoming habitat for many plant and animal species.

wildflower meadow and solar panels

Wildflowers growing at Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy’s Chelworth Solar Farm, 2015.

The Chelworth solar array by Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy is an example of this type of development. Since it was built the land has been enriched and seeded with native wildflower and plant varieties, and many species of animals and insects have come to live in the area. A key element of Chelworth’s biodiversity management plan was the development of a rich wildflower meadow on site, making it an ideal habitat for bees and other pollinating insect species.

On a wider level, this type of action can serve as a blueprint for bee protection and conservation efforts. Community solar farms are not going to make up for the 97% percent loss of natural flower-rich grasslands, but they provide an effective starting point to begin redeveloping bee habitats across the country. Solar farms are very adequate for this purpose because once they have been built they essentially run autonomously, with little human intervention to disturb plants and animals that make them their home. Furthermore, their 20 to 25 year lifespan means that they are enduring enough to make a significant long-term impact on local biodiversity. And of course there is the other added benefit — reduction in carbon emissions helping to stave off climate change, which is also impacting ecosystem balance and bee habitats.