What is it?
Cleve Hill Solar Park is a proposed development of solar panels covering an area of approximately 360 hectares (890 acres) of former grazing marsh.
Where is it?
The proposed site is located on the north Kent coast, roughly 1 mile northeast of Faversham, 3 miles west of Whitstable and situated closest to the village of Graveney.
It is surrounded by habitats designated for their wildlife value at a National and International level (shown in green on the map below). ‘The Swale’ has three levels of designation: it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a national designation; a Special Protection Area, a European designation; and Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance. The Swale estuary is also a Marine Conservation Zone, a national designation.
How is it different from other solar parks?
Cleve Hill Solar Park is huge. It is about five times bigger than anything else currently built in the UK. Most notably it is also of a very different design to other solar developments – rather than south-facing panels, they will face east and west, meaning they can be installed much closer together. This new design is likely to increase the impacts and significantly reduce the opportunities for wildlife compared to ‘traditional’ designs. Owing to the flood risk, the panels will also be placed quite high and will be almost 4 metres tall in places, leading to quite an industrial landscape.
Why is Kent Wildlife Trust opposed?
Kent Wildlife Trust is not opposed to solar parks, and is supportive of initiatives to reduce reliance on fossil fuels - but this must not be at the expense of other aspects of the natural environment. As with many development issues, it is as much about ‘where’ as ‘what’ and in this case the development site is ‘functionally linked’ to the surrounding habitats, and plays a vital role in supporting the species for which the area has been designated. In particular, significant numbers of Brent geese, lapwing and golden plover use the farmland. Marsh harrier breed and feed in the area, and may be displaced by the presence of the solar panels.
When Graveney Marshes was drained to create the arable land we see there now, a gap in the ecological network was created, and this farmland is one of the only undesignated coastal areas between Whitstable and the Medway Towns. The development site provides the biggest and best opportunity to undo some of the damage done over the past decades, by returning the land to the grazing marsh, saltmarsh and mudflat we have lost, for a #WilderKent and a #WilderFuture, for the benefit of wildlife and people. The opportunity is too great, too important, to be lost or delayed.
This is why we want to #SaveGraveneyMarshes.
What is Kent Wildlife Trust doing about it?
The proposals have been classed as a 'Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project' and have gone through a process called 'examination', where independent planning inspectors hear the arguments before making a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who will make the final decision. Kent Wildlife Trust have engaged fully in this process to get the best possible outcome for wildlife, attending hearings and submitting written representations, and some of our detailed responses can be downloaded below. Already we have secured larger buffers to the ditches, more mitigation land and better management, so even if it gets permission it will not be as bad as the initial application, and some species may even be better off. This is a very important area for wildlife, we need to ensure that it stays that way and becomes richer and better for nature in the future.
We are also talking to local people and other campaign groups who have been representing issues like landscape and heritage, such as Graveney Rural Environment Action Team, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Faversham Society and the local MP, to best coordinate our efforts.
As the examination is now closed there is little that members of the public can do at the present time. We expect the Inspectors to make a recommendation at the end of February 2020, but we will not know what the recommendation is until the Secretary of State's decision is published three months later, at the end of May (unless delayed). Keep an eye on our website and social media however, as we will be asking for your help to #SaveGraveneyMarshes in the near future.