Solar deal powers up RSPB nature reserves

28-Jun-2019


From its annual Big Garden Birdwatch to its 218 nature reserves nationwide, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a household name when it comes to wildlife conservation in the UK.

The RSPB may have 130 years’ experience in protecting birds and wildlife, but like many other large organisations that care about the planet, the charity is also having to carefully consider its own environmental impact as a business.

The RSPB has created an ongoing sustainability programme, with the organisation aiming to generate at least 50% of the energy that it uses from sources on its own estate by 2020, with ambitions to become carbon-neutral in the future. It has already taken steps in lowering its own environmental impact – with wind turbines at two reserves and its headquarters, which also boasts a 95% recycling rate.

One of the latest projects in the programme has been the installation of renewable energy projects across its nature reserves, which has been made possible through a new finance deal with Triodos Bank.

A loan of £710,000 has supported the installation of over 700 solar panels at seven nature reserves, including Minsmere, The Lodge and Bempton Cliffs. It is expected that these will provide up to 80% of the sites’ annual energy requirements, which is around 10% of the energy RSPB uses in total each year.

This will save the RSPB a significant sum on its energy bill, as well as providing income from selling energy back to the grid. Any additional electricity is purchased by the charity on a green tariff.

The RSPB has also used the finance to install a new biomass boiler at Old Moor and deploy energy-efficient LED lighting across 10 office locations.

The finance deal enables the RSPB to focus its charitable donations from the public into live conservation projects, while the repayments of the renewable energy projects are paid for by ongoing energy bill savings, plus payments from electricity generation over a 20-year period.

“We are all becoming more aware of the growing threat climate disruption poses for people and nature,” says Ruth Davis, deputy director of Global Conservation at the RSPB. “As an environmental body, we have adopted targets to drive reductions in our carbon footprint, including through energy efficiency and generating energy at our nature reserves. I am delighted that we have been able to achieve this through our developing Conservation Investment Programme, with the support of Triodos and Environmental Finance.”

New solar panels installed at RSPB Arne in Dorset

The solar panel installations have been carefully located to avoid impacts on nature. As part of the planning process assessments have been carried out to ensure there are no impacts on specially protected species. Some panels are roof mounted on reserve buildings, others on car park canopies. The panels at Minsmere are ground mounted on a bank beside the car park; the shelter they provide is likely to attract the rare antlion to dig small pits in the ground under the panels to trap prey. It has the potential to create one of the largest colonies in England.

Phillip Bate, senior relationship manager at Triodos Bank UK, added: “We are really proud that RSPB has chosen us to be its partner to finance this project. Our values and mission as a bank align well with its work protecting and restoring habitats, while helping the UK’s bird species to thrive.

“Efforts from all organisations to reduce their carbon footprints should be encouraged and we are pleased to help the RSPB take steps in reducing its own environmental impacts.”