Kildare County Council has refused permission for a solar farm and other works on Drehid North, Timahoe, County Kildare. Butterfly Conservation Ireland objected to the application early this year (see https://butterflyconservation.ie/wp/2019/02/19/butterfly-conservation-ireland-lodges-objection-to-proposed-solar-farm/)
The development would involve drainage of part of the site and this would have damaged or destroyed wet heath, a habitat listed on Annex I of the Habitats’ Directive. In addition, the planning authority was unsatisfied with the Environmental Impact Assessment Report, which, it seems, did not include important data required under the Habitats’ and Birds Directive specifically the identification of species and habitats protected under these directives. Butterfly Conservation Ireland drew attention to some of these deficiencies in our original objection, such as the failure to identify the presence of the Marsh Fritillary which breeds on the site.
Following the original application, Kildare County Council called for additional information. In an attempt to protect the habitats and moth and butterfly species on the site, some of which are very important, Butterfly Conservation Ireland worked with the ecological consultants for the project to develop a plan to avoid construction on the habitats that are important to the butterflies and moths and to create a management plan to preserve the habitats and populations present. Butterfly Conservation Ireland submitted the contents of the plan to the planning authority, indicating that the plan if implemented, would protect the habitats that contain the high diversity and high abundance of Lepidoptera species.
The implementation of the plan is very important, as natural succession in the form of semi-natural woodland is changing the grassland habitats and will lead to population declines and to important species being lost.
Refusal of permission will mean that the wet heath is preserved. This is important for some bird species and some moths. However, the greatest diversity of Lepidoptera species is located outside the heath, on the semi-natural grassland, the area that is subject to successional change. The best outcome is that the plan to control invasive scrub is put into effect. Butterfly Conservation Ireland will press for the management plan to be implemented.
It should be reiterated that clean energy, such as solar energy, is welcome as part of the response to reduce carbon emissions. The Drehid site is very large and an area that has very poor habitat could have been selected by the applicants, a point Butterfly Conservation Ireland made in our objection in January 2019. In fact, however, it would be much better to avoid peatland sites altogether. We hope this lesson will be heeded for any future application.