WEST DORSET: The developers of a proposed solar farm have hit out at conservationists for 'ignoring the facts' in campaigning for the government to intervene.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Eric Pickles ordered West Dorset District Council to put permission for the 24-megawatt solar farm at the former BBC transmission station at Rampisham Down on hold until specific authorisation is given by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The announcement came following a campaign from conservation groups including Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) calling for government intervention -in order to protect wildlife at the site near Beaminster.

Last month, West Dorset District Council's development control committee gave the 40-hectare scheme the green light, but the government has now stepped in to put the proposals on hold.

Chief executive of DWT Dr Simon Cripps said: “Dorset Wildlife Trust is not against renewable energy development, but we will oppose it on sites where the development could cause harm to the environment.

“We have been overwhelmed by the amount of public support we've had, with nearly 7,000 people sending their letters to Eric Pickles asking him to 'call in' the decision. It is good news that the process of issuing planning permission has been halted for the time being, but we need to continue putting pressure on the government to get this perverse decision over-turned.

“My guess is that this will be kicked into the long grass until after the general election.”

The developers of the scheme, British Solar Renewables, are disappointed the Secretary of State has put the plans on hold and believe the scheme would pose no threat to protected wildlife.

Business development director at British Solar Renewables Giles Frampton said: “The science is in our favour and still it is being turned against us by Dorset Wildlife Trust and Natural England.

“It is a bit like taking on the flat earth society. It is a manmade habitat and a brownfield site. During our three years of research and studies, we have found no badgers and no adders and only one harebell.

“The democratic process had already spoken when the planning committee voted to support the facts.

They were persuaded by common sense, yet these groups are choosing to ignore the facts. We will be continuing with the science to prove there is no harm to the grassland.”

The development would create around 150 full time jobs and deliver renewable energy to power more than 10,000 homes.

Research has found that grass has continued to grow underneath test panels - which are translucent and let more light through.

The DWT has disputed these claims are believe the mix of wildlife makes it an important natural area.

“They have not done any reliable science on this” said Dr Cripps. “Anyone with trees or a shed in their garden will know that shade does have a significant effect on wildlife.

“None of the species at Rampisham are particularly rare, but it's an extremely important mix which makes the site so special.” 

The plans were submitted in December 2012 and the site listed as a SSSI in March 2014 by Natural England as an important designated lowland acid grassland and heathland. Despite objecting to the planning application, a spokesperson from Natural England told The News they were still finalising their position in regard to Rampisham Down.