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Solar park management and design to boost bumble bee populations

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Article number044002
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/04/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Environmental Research Letters
Issue number4
Number of pages13
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date9/03/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Solar photovoltaics (PV) is projected to become the dominant renewable, with much capacity being installed as ground-mounted solar parks. Land use change for solar can affect ecosystems across spatial scales and solar parks offer a unique opportunity for ecological enhancement. One compelling potential benefit beginning to be deployed by the solar industry is management for insect pollinators. Specifically, solar parks can provide refuge for pollinators through the provision of suitable habitat, potentially contributing to halting and reversing widespread declines recorded in some pollinator groups. There is scope to both manage and design solar parks for pollinators, but understanding is limited. Using a GIS and a process-based pollinator model, we explore how solar park management, size, shape and landscape context might impact ground-nesting bumble bee density, nest density and nest productivity inside existing solar parks and surrounding landscapes in the UK. We show that bumble bee density and nest density is driven by solar park management, with twice as many bumble bees foraging and nesting inside solar parks managed as wildflower meadows, compared to those with only wildflower margins. In comparison, solar park size, shape and landscape context have a smaller impact on bumble bee response inside solar parks. However, large, elongated resource-rich solar parks were most effective at increasing bumble bee density in surrounding landscapes, with implications for local crop pollination. Specifically, there were double the number of foraging bumble bees surrounding large solar parks managed as meadows compared to smaller parks managed as turf grass. If designed and managed optimally, solar parks therefore have the potential to boost local bumble bee density and potentially pollination services to adjacent crops. Our results demonstrate how incorporating biodiversity into solar park management and design decisions could benefit groups such as pollinators and contribute to the wider environmental sustainability of solar parks.