Plans for a solar farm north of the Llanwern Steelworks, adjacent to the village of Bishton, have been derided as being ‘bad for wildlife.’ Ecologist and wildlife conservationist Robin Johnson writes why the opposite is the case, and details how the scheme could greatly enhance opportunities for local biodiversity and wildlife.

‘The two greatest threats facing the wildlife in the Gwent Levels, in addition to the UK in general, are without a doubt, climate change, and intensive farming practices. The former is fairly self-explanatory. The UK saw one of its worst droughts ever recorded in June of last year, the wettest July this year, and the World is now on track to see its hottest year on record.

As a result, wildlife is struggling to cope with these unprecedented, drastic shifts in climate, and unpredictable, extreme weather events that are occurring at an alarming rate. Left unchecked, climate change is forecast to play a major role in a sixth mass extinction event, with 69% of wildlife species already lost since 1970 according to WWF’s living planet report (2022).

To solve this climate, and ecological emergency, the Welsh government is seeking to promote a net-zero strategy which places transitioning to renewable energy sources at its heart, with solar to play a crucial role.

South Wales Argus:

The second threat facing the Gwent Level’s wildlife is undoubtedly more nuanced. Welsh farmers are struggling amidst the backdrop of a crippling cost-of-living crisis, with increased running costs from spiralling energy and fuel prices, forcing many multigenerational farms to close their doors for good. Farms have an important role to play as stewards of the land they farm, and with it the wildlife on it. Striking a balance between the production of food and the protection of wildlife has always been a somewhat challenging task.

Unfortunately, modern-day intensive farming relies on the use of pesticides and fertilisers to return viable crop yields, both of which have the potential to run off into watercourses, a key part of the Gwent levels, and cause damage to its water-based ecosystems. Beyond this, a monocultural, arable farm will provide little opportunity for biodiversity to thrive, as it is subject to constant treatment by these same fertilisers and pesticides, designed to discourage insects, a key food source for birds, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles alike.

A solar farm enables the creation of, undisturbed, diverse grassland and wildflower meadows underneath and around the panels on a solar farm, with rows of panels spaced apart by between 4-5m to avoid shading, resulting in an extensive habitat to be created.

For the Craig Y Perthi scheme this is especially the case, with over 129 acres of dedicated wildflower meadow to be created across the site, enhanced with food plants such as red clover and birds-foot, for the native Shrill Carder bee and other vital pollinators. Through the cessation of the use of pesticides on-site this further benefits the shrill carder, alongside other vital insects that may use the site.

South Wales Argus: Current view of the site from the east of BishtonCurrent view of the site from the east of Bishton (Image: JBM Solar Projects)

Beyond this, over 11.3km of new tree and hedgerow planting will be created across the site, improving interconnectivity of habitats on-site, and providing a further, important resource for local wildlife.

Monitoring studies of existing solar farms have consistently found that biodiversity actually increases for the reasons noted above, with the most recent of such studies finding an increase in the abundance of Green, Amber and Red list bird species on the solar site in question compared to an adjacent surveyed arable farm.

Therefore, it is incorrect to label solar farms indiscriminately as being ‘bad for wildlife’, with opportunities for biodiversity enhancement and positive outcomes for local wildlife considerable when done right.’

South Wales Argus: Visualisation of the proposals from the east of BishtonVisualisation of the proposals from the east of Bishton (Image: JBM Solar Projects)

The Craig Y Perthi Solar Farm is a 99.9MW solar farm proposed on mostly poor-quality farmland between the M4 and the Llanwern Steel works, and adjacent to the village of Bishton in Newport. A planning application will be submitted shortly to Planning and Environment Decisions Wales (PEDW) for consideration. 

The plans are being brought forward by UK -based developer JBM Solar (part of RWE), and would generate enough affordable, renewable energy to meet the equivalent needs of around 45,374 Welsh homes per annum, saving over 3,180,000 tonnes of CO2 in the process. That’s the equivalent of planting over 52 million trees.

You can find out more about the scheme at