RESIDENTS of a west Dorset valley have joined forces to protest against proposals for a solar farm they have labelled an “environmental disaster waiting to happen”.

Villagers from Thorncombe, Marshwood and Hawkchurch have combined to launch the Stop Sadborow Solar, which would see the installation of solar panels on a 43.5 acre site near Gashay Farm in Hawkchurch, on the Dorset-Devon border.

The application was lodged with West Dorset District Council by developers British Solar Renewables, and now villagers have slammed the proposals and are calling on the district council to refuse the application, due to the area’s landscape and popularity with tourists.

Farmer Robert Langford, whose family have been at Hawkmoor Farm for nearly 100 years, said: “The proposed solar farm at Gashay is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

“Solar panels can be manufactured by the million but you can’t manufacture thousands of years of the natural environment and the wildlife on it.
“We don’t know how these solar farms will affect small mammals, birds, bats and also bumble bees, which are in a critical state of decline.

“Anything that produces electricity generates an electro-magnetic field, which may affect bees. Bats are also threatened by these developments. If you take away bird habitats, which creates an alien environment for the birds, they cannot adapt to such a rapid change.

“The potential environmental damage far exceeds the benefit. We will lose 43 acres of unspoilt valley, simply for profit.”

The proposed Sadborow Solar farm is bisected by the world-famous Wessex Ridgeway Trail, which links the Iron Age forts of nearby Lambert Castle and Pilsdon Pen, and also the Liberty Trail between Ham Hill in Somerset and Lyme Regis, Dorset.

Madeleine Huggins of Hawkchurch said: “The site is in a particularly beautiful and unspoilt landscape. The man-made structures of solar panels and security fencing would completely change the nature of this rural landscape and would be out of keeping with the character of the whole area.”

British Solar Renewables (BSR), the company responsible for constructing the nearby large scale solar farms and parks adjoining the Marshwood to Raymonds Hill road (B3165), has been retained in partnership with Sadborow Solar Ltd.

Sir Alex Allan, a former civil servant now living in Thorncombe, said: “There is an economic value to this environment in terms of local business.

“Furthermore, this application is directly contrary to government guidelines, which advise that solar panels should be erected on brownfield/factory sites and domestic roofs, and not on sensitive or greenfield sites.”

Marcus Dixon, from British Solar Renewables, said: “Sadborow Solar Farm is set in a well screened site that will be both used for agricultural use whilst also providing homegrown, clean energy free from carbon and emissions.

“At the end of the project the land can be returned to agricultural use.”

Guy Smith, vice president at the National Farmers’ Union, said: “It is clear that renewable energy can support profitable farming, underpinning traditional agricultural production with additional returns that make businesses more resilient.

“This guidance document shows how solar farms can indeed be multifunctional, simultaneously meeting food and energy needs as well as enhancing biodiversity. Only a negligible land take is required to make a major contribution to Britain’s clean energy needs, so the future looks bright for solar grazed lamb and free-range solar chicken.”