Farmers have called on Liz Truss’ successor as UK prime minister to abandon plans to ban solar power from most of England’s farmland, arguing it would cut a vital income stream and harm food security.
Truss, who resigned on Thursday, and her environment secretary Ranil Jayawardena hoped to ban about 41% of England’s land area, or about 58% of agricultural land, from using solar energy, the Guardian revealed last week.
They planned to do this by reclassifying less productive farmland as “best and most valuable” by making it harder to use for energy infrastructure.
Members of the Country Lands and Business Association (CLA), which represents 33,000 landowners, told the Guardian that having solar power on their less productive land would allow them to subsidize food production in less successful years, as well as provide cheap electricity for their properties and homes across the country. gives their local area.
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CLA president Mark Tufnell grows oats, wheat and barley on his Cotswolds estate. He said: “We have members who, if the need arises, these are temporary places, and then they can concentrate on growing more food on their other land.
“The sun would be on their less good land, and … if they choose to do it, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do it?”
He added that the land was not used for agriculture because locusts were easy to remove and the area could be grazed by sheep. “There is no reason why the area below this should not be grazed by sheep, but it can also provide very good habitat for agricultural birds and increase biodiversity to help the environment.
“I don’t see them saying that we will set aside these lands with the stroke of a pencil, I don’t see that it helps, and I think that it is not possible to help food security in any case.”
The real problem with the government’s solar strategy, he says, is how difficult it is to put solar power on rooftops.
Tufnell said: “There’s so much they haven’t been able to do, like encourage rooftop solar, change the planning system to allow it. I already have 49kW and would like to have another 100kW in my premises but the hardest thing to do is to connect to the grid affordably. They are very slow, the cost is incredibly high and in my case I might have to put in a mini substation which is very expensive.
“My job is to put solar panels on the building that I am converting into an office and workshop, and if there is any surplus, I would like to use it on the houses in the village. “But it’s so difficult and expensive that it’s very unpleasant, and if I hadn’t been so persistent, I honestly thought I couldn’t be bothered.”
Harry Teacher, a fruit and arable farmer in Kent, has a large solar park on his land, which helps bring in income when his farm has a bad year.
He said: “We built a park in 2014, putting ground-mounted panels on frames on about 61 hectares. We are a fruit and arable farm, but we are quite diversified and any farmer was encouraged to find sources of income other than farming and solar panels were part of that diversification. It is a constant source of income for us. This gives our business even more strength.”
Not understanding all the fuss, the teacher added, “As a suggestion, they are easily hidden by a large hedge. They do not make noise, there are no moving parts. Carbon is now a serious thing we all have to consider, solar panels should be a part of it. If the argument is loss of land for food – you know planning applications for solar parks are made on a temporary basis – ours is for a 25 year period. If for any reason, which is not uncommon, we run out of food, we can collect it all and return it to agriculture.
“We definitely make more money from our solar panels than from farming. People have a gut reaction to any kind of greenfield development, and it’s more of a reaction to people’s reaction to seeing solar parks – I don’t think it’s a real fear for food production.”