Following months of campaigning by Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) and over 10,500 letters sent to the Secretary of State, the development of a large solar station on the SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) Rampisham Down in West Dorset, has been ‘called in’ by the Department of Communities and Local Government.
The fate of the protected site will now be taken out of the hands of West Dorset District Council, who voted to approve the planning permission, and a decision on whether or not to grant planning permission will be made by The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP with the aid of a public inquiry.
On 15 January this year, West Dorset District Council voted to approve an application by British Solar Renewables to build a 24-megawatt solar station on Rampisham Down. This decision was made against the advice of their own planning officer and Government wildlife body, Natural England.
DWT’s Chief Executive, Dr Simon Cripps said: “We are delighted that this decision has been called in. Together with the help of concerned partners like RSPB and CPRE, and members of the public, we have raised serious concerns that undermining the designation of a SSSI is not only harmful for Rampisham Down but also sets a worrying precedent for the protection of similar sites. In the case of Rampisham, there is an alternative site which could be used, and which we support fully. The rare habitat on this site has already been designated a priority site by ecologists and the Government. It is now in our view the Government’s responsibility to ensure this protection continues.
“DWT is supportive of renewable energy development in the right place but Rampisham Down is the wrong place for this damaging development.”
Rampisham Down is a 72 hectare (178 acre) site set in the heart of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and provides habitat for rare groupings of plants and fungi, including waxcaps, harebell and orchids. It is also one of the largest areas of lowland acid grassland left in the UK, and was designated a SSSI in March 2014.