Dog-walkers at a popular Devon park have been dismayed at the removal of undergrowth which one said had destroyed wildlife habitat to make way for a solar farm. Torbay’s first solar park was approved in May for Nightingale Park, near The Willows housing estate in Torquay.
The £3.1million scheme will see solar panels cover a large section of the former landfill site to provide renewable energy for nearby Torbay Hospital, as part of its plans to become carbon neutral under measures to tackle climate change due to global warming. Torbay Council, which is funding the development, said the clearance of scrub to level the site for panels had been done outside the bird-nesting season in two phases allow wildlife to relocate, and there will be measures to improve biodiversity.
One nearby resident who has regularly walked her dog in Nightingale Park and nearby Lindisfarne Park for several years, said she was “devastated” to see the “destruction” of the habitat. She said: “Solar panels are great but I don’t support destroying nature in order to install them. I’d prefer to see solar panels on buildings.
“Nightingale Park is the only area within walking distance where you can forget you’re in a built-up area for a little while. Who wants to walk around a field of solar panels? Now people are going to have to jump in their cars to ‘get away from it all’, cancelling out all the good of the solar power scheme.
“Lindisfarne Park is so small, you can see where you just were at all times. Nightingale Park was different because there was so much vegetation – now most of it has gone and you can see right across to the other side. It was a haven for wildlife and we would always see numerous butterflies, rabbits and birds of prey on our walks.
“It’s heart-breaking to think about what must have happened to the wildlife now their habitat has been wiped out. Yes, there’s still some greenery at the edges, but it’s a fraction of what was there before.”
A spokesperson for Torbay Council said: “The recent vegetation clearance works are the first step of implementing the recently approved solar array at Nightingale Park. Prior to the solar panels being positioned on the site, the scrub in the centre of the park needed to be cleared ready for the hollows to be filled so there is a level surface for the solar panels to sit on.
“As part of the planning application, several reports were submitted which included an Environmental Impact Assessment, Landscape Plans, a Landscape and Ecology Management Plan, and a Biodiversity Net Gain report. The vegetation is being cut in two phases to allow wildlife to relocate and is being completed outside of bird nesting season. As we move forward with installing the solar panels, our site management plan sets out measures to ensure biodiversity at the site is enhanced.”
Nightingale Park in September 2021
The council’s deputy leader Darren Cowell said after planning permission was granted in May: “Not only are we supporting the hospital in their plans to become carbon neutral, as well as providing any extra energy to the National Grid, these plans are also providing enhancements to the park so the community can continue to enjoy the open space.
“This project will see improvements to the circular walk by widening the paths as well as improving them so they can be used in all weathers and all year round. Exercise equipment will also be placed at various points around the circular track and improvement to other footpaths in the woodlands will also be made. More hedgerows will also be put in to help and improve the already existing wildlife.”
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Nightingale Park is a former landfill site which was in use from the 1950s until the 1980s. The solar park will provide 3.2 megawatt of power for 25 years. It will cover around 3.9 hectares (9.6 acres) within a secure fenced area extending the area to 5.82 hectares (14.4 acres), equivalent to seven football pitches. The buildings needed to accompany the panels include a transformer kiosk and switchgear kiosk and the site will be monitored by CCTV.
A second council-funded solar park has been proposed for a 6.7 hectare (16.6 acre) site at Brokenbury, at Galmpton near Brixham. Planners deferred a decision on the £2.75million scheme on two fields in January for consultation with the fire service and to consider concerns raised by local residents about the siting of panels.
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