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Solar farm field trip sparks school children’s interest in renewables

The Hadlow Estate hopes it has inspired the next generation of geographers who will work in the renewables industry after a school visit to the Estate’s solar farm by a group of 12 and 13-year-olds.

The year-eight pupils from a Kent co-educational preparatory school enjoyed a morning at the Estate, which included a tour of the solar park, which provides power to more than 5,000 homes in the villages of Five Oak Green and Tudeley, as well as the wider area.

Kate Teacher, owner of the Estate said: “These children are the potential scientists of the future and may work in the renewables sector.  It was great to welcome them to the Estate and hopefully inspire some of them to consider a career in renewable energy or climate science, which is so important for all our futures.”

The benefits for wildlife on land used for solar power was demonstrated to the children. Each was given an “I-spy” sheet of wildlife pictures for the visit which included birds, insects and plants found at the 64-acre park in Capel, next to the London-Ashford railway line.

The pupils were asked to look out for birds, including skylarks, swifts, yellow hammers and buzzards, spot plants like oxeye daisy, birds-foot trefoil and ragged robin and try to identify flying insects including damsel flies, butterflies and bumblebees.

The children found that wildlife is thriving between the 72,776 solar panels on land leased from the Hadlow Estate by Cubico Sustainables. In feedback from the school following the visit one youngster wrote: “I now know what yellow hammers look like and sound like.”  Another reported: “I know solar panels are an excellent source of electricity. Thank you.”

Chipo Murombedzi at the Hadlow Estate's solar park.

Chipo Murombedzi (pictured, right), Asset Manager with Cubico Sustainables which manages the Hadlow Estate solar park, revealed she was inspired to work in the renewables sector after growing up in Zimbabwe where there were regular power cuts.  “As a child I didn’t understand how a country did not have electricity,” she said. “That piqued my interest in thinking there must be a way to produce electricity so that everyone can have access.”

Chipo came to Britain to finish her education and studied Electronic and Electrical Engineering at Loughborough University’s Centre for Renewable Energy Systems and Technology.  “It was hard and there weren’t that many other female engineers on the course,” she said, admitting at times she wanted to give up, but persevered and gained her qualifications.

During her work with Cubico, she has mentored a student from her old school back in Zimbabwe and encourages pupils there to study science subjects. She hopes to become a solar farm developer and is developing a 20MWp farm in Zimbabwe. “I am doing this because I want to make a valuable contribution to the world and I would like young girls to see that we can be engineers as well.”

A report this year from Solar Energy UK showed that after a decade of ecological monitoring solar farms are supporting a wide range of plants, invertebrates, birds and mammals.  The report highlighted the positive relationships solar farms can have with wildlife.

Across 37 solar farms, research showed a total of 178 plant species, 3,764 different invertebrates and 91 different bird species. Mammals were found at 38% of sites, with brown hares making up the largest number.

The solar park at Hadlow is surrounded by hedges, trees and wildflower meadows with bird and bat boxes installed in nearby woodland. There are also solar panels on the roofs of the cold-stores at Hadlow Place Farm to provide the power to keep the fruit fresh in storage after harvest as well as electricity for the Estate’s office and nearby houses.

School children visiting the Hadlow Estate's solar farm

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