Are solar farms a ‘blight’? EDP poll shows 69pc disagree with Defra minister Elizabeth Truss

Ewes and lambs grazing between solar panels at the Nova Scotia Solar Farm near Caister.Picture: Jame

Ewes and lambs grazing between solar panels at the Nova Scotia Solar Farm near Caister.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014

East Anglian farmers – and EDP readers – have disagreed with the environment secretary's assertion that large scale solar farms are a 'blight' on our countryside.

Defra minister Elizabeth Truss announced at the weekend that solar farms will not be eligible for any subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy from January, to help safeguard agricultural land for farming and save £2m of taxpayers' money.

The South West Norfolk MP said: 'I do not want to see its (farmland's) productive potential wasted and its appearance blighted by solar farms.'

An online poll on the EDP website asked: 'Are large-scale solar farms a 'blight' to the countryside?'. 69pc of respondents answered 'No'.

The move was also criticised as 'misguided' by Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president Henry Robinson, who said agricultural activity can continue alongside and underneath solar panels to produce double output of both food and energy.

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He said: 'Land in the UK has always been used for more than just food production and must continue to be so.

'There is no question that the best and most versatile land should be retained for food production wherever possible, and this is safeguarded by both the agricultural and solar industry.'

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Farmer David Cargill grazes up to 250 sheep around the 59,000 photovoltaic panels of the 72-acre Nova Scotia solar farm, completed earlier this year on fields between Caister and Ormesby.

He said: 'The land can definitely be used productively for both purposes at the same time. I have no doubt this decision was politically-motivated, but I cannot understand the logic behind it.

'Realistically Defra needs to encourage dual-purpose use, and this land is being used to produce food as well as energy. There is a cost involved in doing so, but grazing sheep under solar panels is no different to grazing sheep without solar panels.'

As for the minister's comment about the visual appearance of solar farms, Mr Cargill said: 'I think that's a load of rubbish. We have had nothing but praise for our site and the company that built it (Conergy) is up for an architectural award.'

Andrew Fundell, agri-business consultant at Brown & Co in Norwich, said there were concerns that other non-food farming operations could be reviewed. He said: 'If Liz Truss has decided that she does not like land being used for non-food production, then the next logical step could be the land being used for biogas plants. While there might be a handful of solar farms in Norfolk, there are 10 or 12 biogas plants going up and each of those farms at least 1,000 acres of maize. It is a lot more land, and any change would affect a lot more businesses.'

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