Welsh ‘Amazon forest’ at risk from solar farm plan

Plans for at least four solar parks on the Gwent Levels include a marshland in Magor

A brewery’s solar farm plans on “Wales’ Amazon rainforest” have met opposition.

Wildlife campaigners want a temporary ban – or moratorium – of solar farms on the Gwent Levels due to concerns about their impact on biodiversity.

Budweiser Brewing Group wants to develop renewable energy sources to cut carbon emissions to net zero at its brewery in Magor, Monmouthshire.

The Welsh government said it was unable to comment as it may prejudice any future decisions.

With several other solar proposals for the Levels, a wildlife trust has expressed its concerns over the risk of biodiversity loss.

Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I said it would develop a scheme that tries to provide ecological enhancements.

The solar farm is expected to be built on environmentally sensitive marshland near Magor, to the east of Newport.

It will be used to generate electricity for a hydrogen plant that will power Budweiser’s Magor brewery.

According to the project developer, Protium, “Magor Net Zero” will comprise a solar park, a wind turbine, a hydrogen refuelling station and a green hydrogen production facility that will collectively displace more than 15,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year.

It is part of the global beer brand’s plans to cut carbon emissions.

But wildlife campaigners fear solar farms could weaken vulnerable ecosystems on the Gwent Levels, a wetland area between eastern Cardiff and Chepstow, Monmouthshire.

Mike Webb

Mike Webb from Gwent Wildlife Trust says the solar farm is in the “wrong place”

“We’ve got lapwings here… a very scarce and declining breeding bird in Wales and in Gwent,” said Mike Webb from the Gwent Wildlife Trust.

“We have water voles, a declining riverside mammal,” he said.

“We have lots of wildlife here and it would be so sad if it were threatened by this type of development.”

‘Right idea, wrong place’

He added the charity is very much for renewable energy as a response to climate change.

“Unfortunately this fragile and complex wetland ecosystem is just not suitable,” he said. “We’re not ‘nimbies’, or anti-solar farms – it’s just right idea, wrong place, I’m afraid.”

As part of its consultation on the project, Budweiser Brewing Group and its lead partner Protium said: “We are aware of the importance of the Gwent Levels and local wildlife habitats such as Magor Marsh. By law, we are required to deliver an improvement in local biodiversity of at least 10%”.

Protium added that it has engaged with a range of people including local politicians, residents, community groups and regulatory bodies over the past 18 months to two years to ensure a constant flow of feedback on the project.

As part of its consultation on the project, Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I said: “We are aware of the importance of the Gwent Levels and local wildlife habitats such as Magor Marsh.

field of solar panels with a workman

Budweiser says the solar farm would producing 17MW electricity, cutting carbon emissions from its Magor brewery

“By law, we are required to deliver an improvement in local biodiversity of at least 10%, meaning we are keen to hear local opinions on which areas of the community would most benefit from ecological enrichment.”

In December 2022, the Welsh government suspended a decision on another solar farm proposal on the Gwent Levels.

Rush Wall solar park, in Redwick, near Newport, is expected to generate enough energy to provide electricity to 18,755 homes.

The developer, BSR Energy, has been asked by the planning inspectorate to provide further evidence on how its plans comply with national environmental policies.

BSR Energy said: “We are in the process of producing a document detailing how our existing scheme complies with these new requirements.

solar farm

BSR Energy also want to use the Gwent Levels for its Rush Wall Solar Park near Redwick, Newport

“We believe our application already takes into account the resilience of ecosystems and we are happy to explain how the step-wise approach has been considered and applied in order to maintain and enhance biodiversity and build ecological networks.

“We work hard to build good relationships with local stakeholders and listen to everyone’s views, adjusting plans where possible to mitigate concerns,” the company added.

The developer of another solar farm proposal at Wentlooge, west of Newport, has made changes to a previously rejected plan which include reducing the number of PV solar panels and enlarging wildlife corridors through the development.

Catherine Linstrum on a marsh boardwalk

Catherine Linstrum of Friends of the Gwent Levels says the group wants a temporary halt on developments

Catherine Linstrum, from Friends of Gwent Levels, said: “We have asked the Welsh government to place a temporary moratorium on major development on the Gwent Levels.

“We’re not saying nothing, nowhere, never,” she said. “We’re saying at the moment there is still not enough evidence to prove that the solar farms don’t create real adverse impacts on the biodiversity of the levels.

“Until such a time where everyone’s sure that they’re not creating real adverse impacts, we need to stop them.”

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