Fears for ancient woodland as giant solar energy farm is proposed

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Rural campaigners fear for the future of an ancient woodland if plans for a giant solar energy farm go ahead.

An application has been submitted to Bedford Borough Council to site more than 73,000 panels on agricultural land next to Odell Great Wood.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said the solar farm would “irreversibly damage” the 215-acre wood, which lies north of Odell, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Spokesman Nicola Scholfield said the proposals, including a 3m steel fence and CCTV security cameras, will adversely affect the setting of the unspoilt ash-maple woodland, of a type now rare in southeast England.

She added: “CPRE Bedfordshire would like to see solar panels located on brownfield sites or on the rooftops of large buildings such as warehouses, of which there are many in Bedfordshire, rather than in our valued countryside.”

The solar plant will stretch along the northern edge of the Great Wood, and border other woodland areas, notably Brownage and Louse Acre Woods.

The solar farm site lies in Councillor Alison Foster’s Harrold ward. She also sits on the planning committee.

She said there are a number of solar farm applications “in the pipeline” and is concerned North Beds is becoming a “dumping ground for industrial projects”.

She said: “Nobody has made representations to me personally about this application, and in principle I have no objections to solar farms.

“However, I am concerned the CPRE is concerned.”

She added: “There have been a number of fairly destructive applications around the North Bedfordshire villages, which I think are the most beautiful in the county, and we don’t want to see the loss of any more agricultural land.”

The application has been made by Vento Ludens Ltd. Project manager Sarah Rocks said the firm believes the project is sensitively sited, and well planned and screened. She added the majority of people who attended an exhibition in April were positive.

She said: “Throughout the development process we have been more than happy to listen to the planning concerns of the local community.”

In May, the Government announced it will reduce subsidies to large-scale solar farms from next April to encourage smaller-scale developments. Comments on the application should be made to Bedford Borough Council by July 26.