Conservation campaign saves ‘nationally important’ grasslands

Rare ancient grasslands in Dorset will continue to be protected, with plans to create a solar farm on the site scrapped.

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The Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on Rampisham Down, Dorset is one of the UK’s largest unimproved lowland acid grasslands, and a rare example of the marginal common land used in medieval grazing systems.

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In 2013, solar energy company, British Solar Renewables (BSR), put forward plans to build a solar farm on the site, which campaigners argued would have caused significant damage to the mosaic of acid grassland and heath plant communities, according to wildlife charities.

The mosaic of plants includes birds-foot trefoil, heath bedstraw, mouse-ear hawkweed, slender St John’s wort, tormentil and dwarf thistle. This rare habitat is also home to declining farmland birds such as skylarks and is considered important for its fungi and insect communities.

Natural England confirmed the site grassland as a SSSI in 2014, giving it vital legal protection through the planning process, and lodged an objection to the proposed development of the site.

The modern day survival of the protected site was helped by its use as a BBC transmitter site for 70 years.

Conservation groups, Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Team and the Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT), worked with BSR to find a solution, which resulted in alternative plans to create a solar farm on less sensitive land nearby, approved last month by West Dorset District Council.

A spokesperson from BSR said: “British Solar Renewables is pleased to have worked closely with Dorset Wildlife Trust, Historic England and Natural England to arrive at a solution which both protects the wildlife and sensitivities of the Rampisham Down site SSSI, and also ensures a supply of sustainable, renewable energy for future generations.”

DWT’s Chief Executive, Dr Simon Cripps said: “This nationally important wildlife site will now continue to be protected.  Many conservationists were concerned that if this site was built on, other SSSI designated sites in the UK would be undermined and at risk as a result.”

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Image: The radio masts on Rampisham Down © Copyright Shazz for Geograph