Spring has certainly arrived and it is a joy to see the countryside transforming before our eyes as it becomes greener each day. The crops and grass fields are now growing vigorously and the hedges and leaves on the trees are bursting into life.
There is a feeling of anticipation of all good things to come as the season of renewal unravels. It brings a joyous feeling of anticipation and hope that this year mother-nature will perhaps be a little kinder and work with the farmers and growers rather than challenging us to cope with yet another year of unseasonal and difficult weather.
It is a sheer delight to watch the lambs gambling in the sunshine unlike last year when sheep farmers were desperately digging frozen copses out of snow drifts.
The weather can make farming a struggle when too wet, too cold, too dry or even too hot. But it takes very little to put a smile on our faces. It is a joy to watch happy and contented livestock grazing in the sunshine, and see our crops flourish and grow beneath the warm spring sunshine and the gentle rain. It is then very easy to believe all is well with the world.
Last week the secretary of state Greg Barker said that he wishes to ‘move the emphasis for growth away from large solar farms and focus on the UK’s estimated 250,000 hectares’ of south facing commercial roof tops’.
In Birmingham he spoke about his ‘Solar Strategy’ being the first of its kind in the UK. The plan is to turn government building such as schools and hospitals into power stations by covering their roofs with solar panels. He said he is working closely with Francis Maude and his team at the department of education to reduce the cost of heating and lighting schools by an estimated £500m by installing solar panels on roofs in a similar manner.
There are also plans to site solar panels on the sides of roads, on brown field sites and on the vast acres of roof space on industrial sites across the country.
This news will no doubt cheer up those who are deeply concerned about the proposed siting of solar panels across hundreds of acres of farmland across West Sussex, in Ashurst and Partridge Green in particular.
Solar energy is a necessary and valuable source of power and at the end of the day far more efficient and practical than wind farms. However, it must be questionable whether it is right to cover hundreds of acres of green field sites with panels when it would be more acceptable if they were sited on farm buildings, and on smaller more discrete sites.
It is quite understandable for farmers to be tempted by a steady and reliable income for renting their fields, particularly un-productive grade three and four land. I too could be persuaded particularly when grain prices fluctuate greatly from year to year.
However, one must sympathise and listen to the local community. Moderation in most things is generally better for everyone be it for our health or indeed the environment. The decision to site vast acres of solar panels across our green and pleasant countryside for a period of 25 years, against the wishes of the local community understandably inflames resentment and causes stress.
Those making these decisions will hopefully, in the light of Greg Barker’s speech last week, re-examine the scale of these projects and recognise there are alternative sites available which should enable them to keep everyone happy. Why not consider making use of the A24 for example, where there are miles of verges and in some places central reservations lying idle which could easily play host to some of these solar panels.
Being a major trunk road there is easy access to power lines and this would reduce the need to excavate and block our narrow country lanes during construction and maintenance.
Amongst our weekend visitors was a very experienced geologist who confirmed that the UK is badly in need of upping our sustainable energy provision. Anna confirmed most of our thinking that wind farms are hugely costly, inefficient and use a phenomenal amount of energy to build, erect and maintain. They use old, outdated technology and require huge government subsidies funded by us through inflated energy taxation.
She also explained that the UK landscape is generally unsuitable for fracking due to its ecology and geology. Unlike the USA we have a very complex and varied geology crammed into our small but beautifully formed little island. This is why the British Isles has such a rich, stunning and varied landscape. This is in contrast to North America where fracking is effective, relatively inexpensive and there are huge resources of water. These sites are also uninhabited and mostly hundreds of miles away from towns and cities.
This week decisions will be made regarding the solar farms. We can only wait and see if Greg Barker’s words carry any weight or are even considered. We have to put our trust in those running our local authorities and hope their judgement is worthy of that trust.
Carola Godman Irvine