6th March 2021
Like most people local to Bramley and Silchester I had heard of the plan to convert a huge swathe of land between the two villages into a solar farm. This development would totally cover numerous beautiful fields alongside a well used footpath.
The glossy brochure many of us received from ENSO (who exactly are ENSO?) reassured us that it would include wildlife corridors and painted a picture of a rural scene with happy wildlife and sheep grazing below the low level solar panels.
Being hugely in favour of and fully understanding the need for green renewable energy, I was resigned to thinking it was truly the way forward though very sad to think the lovely open space and magnificent view on my daily walk over the fields would be gone for the next 30 – 40 years. How could I not want to do my bit to save The Planet and support this move? As much as I love those fields I could not possibly agree that solar energy was desperately needed then turn round and object when panels were put on “my” fields. All I asked or questioned is would they take care with regard to the archaeological importance of the area with it being so close to the Roman (and even older) remains at Silchester, the Roman Road and the more recent finds of a potential Roman Villa in one of the fields.
No I was not going to be a classic NIMBY!
Fast forward a few months when a major event in my life and a chance meeting when walking made me think again. As the Covid pandemic continued and I faced a personal serious health issue my daily walk became my safety valve, my way to find peace of mind in increasingly troubled times. The highlight of that walk was right in the middle of the two fields that were to become the solar farm, walking up the gentle slope past the old oak tree towards the long dead “lightning tree”. The open space in sun, rain or snow was a place to pause, look around, take a deep breath or two and carry on. At times I tried to picture what it might look like covered in solar panels, with a fence either side of the path and I convinced myself it would still be lovely, just different. One day right by the tree I met a man who was taking some photos. We got chatting, he was very well informed as to what impact the panels would have on the magnificent landscape having experienced the installation of the solar farm at Little London. He suggested I take a walk around the footpath at Little London and a short drive up the track through the panels.
The following week I headed off, as I wandered along the footpath through the little piece of woodland next to the solar farm I encountered the usual view through the trees of an open field one side and a great big fence covered in green (plastic?!) sheeting the other. This fence was topped with CCTV cameras and featured lots of “keep out” and warning type signs. Hardly enhancing the area and actually making it feel more like walking through a tunnel, next to the track/road through the panels themselves. Up close the panels, which I had only seen alongside motorways and other major roads looking quite small, are massive. I had constantly heard the mantra “they are only three feet tall”, maybe at the front but they slope upwards and are easily much taller than my 5’6’’ at the back. They must be or how are sheep going to get under them?
Pictures from the Solar farm at Little London
This is how I picture it will feel walking up the hill towards the trees in “my field” fences, cameras and signage along each side and huge black, glassy looking objects as far as the eye can see.
My little expedition led me to do more research and with a real image of the size of these things in my head it became much easier to picture the sheer size and scale of The Bramley Solar Farm which is at least twenty times the size of the one at Little London, in fact one of the largest in the country. Then I started hearing about the battery storage area which would be in the field adjacent to Electricity Road, the size of 75 shipping containers.
This is NOT a farm at all it is a Major Industrial Development!
I read the very well set out objections of both Bramley and Silchester parish council to the development and their reasons made perfect sense to me. I questioned the widely spread opinion/rumour circulating that if permission for the solar farm was not given then housing would be built on the land, this is simply not proved. I learnt that there are many other locations that solar panels can be sited not resulting in the loss of our beautiful ancient landscape and encroaching on well used and loved local footpaths.
I am no longer sitting on that fence despite my earlier reservations I am firmly opposed to the installation of this blot on the landscape. I have become increasingly aware that many people, like me, have no real idea of the scale of this project and the damage it will cause to our wildlife and way of life. I would urge anyone else “sitting on the fence” to do your own research, consider other options before thinking “we need renewable energy, this is the way forward” , walk those fields and paths and try to picture what it will be like. Speak to the local gamekeepers and people who live next to existing solar installations (they are not farms) and listen to what they have to say. Don’t be taken in by Enso’s glossy brochure and persuasive E-mails and more importantly take time to care about what is happening on our doorstep.
As an ironic footnote to my story, since moving to Bramley 14 years ago I have made several enquiries about installing solar panels on the roof of my small home, only to be told I can’t because I live in a conservation area. My tiny roof would probably only take 4 to 6 panels yet they are considering locating 1,000s a stone’s throw away on good quality agricultural land.
Some Pictures from Debbie’s Peace of Mind Walks
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