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Solar parks could help bees make a comeback

by Bonface Landi

Recent research done by Lancaster University has found that solar parks could provide vital habitats for wildlife. Specifically, the researchers say that wildflowers grown beside solar panels could provide the perfect habitat for bumblebees. The study, which will be presented on Monday at a conference held by Ecology Across Borders, shows that if the parks are managed well, they could be vital in helping the ecosystem flourish.

Some critiques argue that solar parks are ugly and cover land that could be used more productively. However, the study shows that solar panels not only help generate green energy but also contribute to nature.

The study’s authors say that if solar park owners are encouraged to make the parks habitable for wildlife, they could be valuable to the ecosystem. Additionally, managing parks to attract bumblebees could increase bee numbers outside the park’s borders. Researchers say that the bees could benefit farmers up to 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) away from the parks.

Bumblebees are vital in farms since they carry out the primary role of cross-pollinating plants. Without bees and other pollinators, farms could suffer. As The Guardian reports, “One simulation run by the study group found four times as many bees in a solar park managed as a wildflower meadow than in one based on turf grass.”

Hollie Blaydes, a researcher at Lancaster University, said, “Our research suggests that the management of vegetation within the solar parks is really important. Solar parks managed as a meadow act as bumblebee habitat that is rich in flowering plants. Management to create floral-rich bumblebee habitat could be one of the simplest ways to support bumblebees on solar parks.”

Blaydes adds that since parks occupy large tracts of land, they present the perfect characteristics for bumblebee habitats. “The characteristics of many solar parks mean they could be ideal places to create this bumblebee habitat. Solar parks can occupy large areas of land, and while some of this is taken up by solar panels and other infrastructure, this typically only disturbs 5% of the ground,” said Blaydes.

If people embrace these findings, solar parks could also benefit the U.S. as it expands solar development. The U.S. has maintained an average of 21.8% per year growth in solar investment since 2016. Most of the country’s solar plants are in agricultural-rich states such as Texas, where cross-pollination is especially important.

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