Molly Scott Cato MEP has said she is inspired by the work of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. During June she visited the Trust’s Community Energy (WWCE) Chelworth Solar Array to hear first-hand about the benefits to the local community and local environment that have resulted from the 1MW project.
The Chelworth Solar Array is owned by local community organisations and the provision of significant local community benefits is central to WWCE’s vision. Molly learned that WWCE recycle 80% of surplus profits into local communities through a community fund with the remaining 20% going directly to Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. The community fund for Chelworth will be worth over £500k and will support projects that will bring significant social and environmental benefits at a local level in the community.
The site is also a wildlife haven, with special features to encourage wildlife to flourish including reptile mats, a new pond and structures that provide sanctuary for the greater crested newts that can be found on site. There is also an impressive variety of birds, insects and plants to be found onsite as well as snakes, slowworms, and other reptiles.
Molly also introduced Steve Webb from WWCE to the recently commissioned report, The Power to Transform the South West, which concludes that the region has the potential to provide 100%+ of its energy needs through renewable energy. She also signposted him towards the European Fund for Structural Investment which may represent an opportunity for WWCE and its partners that are part of the Mongoose Energy Coop.
Molly went on to visit the Blakehill Farm Nature Reserve, a former military airbase which is now the UK’s largest grassland restoration project. This 240ha site is being carefully restored to wildlife-rich hay meadow and pasture, habitats which were once common in Wiltshire and the UK, but which have steeply declined. With this one project Wiltshire Wildlife Trust is meeting more than 45% of the government’s 10-year target for restoring lowland neutral grassland (hay meadow) in England.
The uninterrupted expanse of grassland on the central plateau is home to farmland wildlife such as brown hare and kestrel. Other wild animals live in the margins, hedgerows, ponds and seasonally wet ground, including bullfinch, lapwing, grass snake and 14 species of dragonfly.
This is also the only location in North Wilts where the Grizzled Skipper butterfly survives and home to a good skylark population, the short eared owl (in winter) and curlew at key times during the year.
Neil Pulham, Reserves Manager at WWT, gave Molly an introduction to the management of the site, including a tour of the in-house farm, and raised a concern about the potential impact of the ‘better regulation’ review and its potential impact on the Birds and Habitats Directives. This is an issue Greens have already taken up in the European Parliament and Molly agreed to follow this up further. Molly said:
“Greens are determined to protect important legislation on the environment where there is clear evidence that such legislation protects threatened species and important areas of natural habitat. Action on issues like wildlife habitat protection is one of the great benefits of the European Union and must not be watered down. With a third of Europe’s birds currently under threat now is the wrong time to make changes to these Directives which have been consistently held up as successful.”