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Solar Farm Project, Paytherden, Devon


For a large solar farm installation in Paytherden, Devon, a phased approach to heritage management was important to meet local and national planning requirements, minimise project disruption and control costs.

The proposed 82 hectare solar farm site was predominantly on agricultural land, in a location where previous archaeological works had identified past human activity dating back to Roman and prehistoric occupation of the area. Furthermore, medieval and modern occupation of the immediate vicinity of the site had left a legacy of listed churches, farmhouses, field systems, landscape features and historic structures.

AB Heritage consultants began with a Combined Archaeology Desk Based Assessment & Heritage Statement. This report pulled together assessment of various historic and archaeological sources, including: the results of past archaeological works; an examination of historic maps; a site visit, and a review of the Devon Historic Environment Record which details known archaeological and heritage assets surrounding area. 

The Combined DBA & HS concluded that there was a potential for below ground archaeology to be impacted, which would require further assessment (see below) and that, while a number of Listed Buildings would be subject to visual change of their setting, the degree of impact was less than substantial, and could be mitigated through a programme of planting native trees to provide suitable screening in keeping with the local historic character.

Identifying Potential Archaeology

In relation to below ground archaeology, the next step was to establish whether archaeological features survived on site. AB Heritage therefore conducted a Geophysical Survey; a non-intrusive, rapid and relatively inexpensive surveying technique that can establish the location of below ground archaeological potential, helping to target or scope out the need for archaeological investigation works where possible.

The geophysical survey identified archaeological potential in a small number of areas within the site, which resulted in a programme of targeted archaeological evaluation (trial trenching), in-line with a methodology formalised in a Written Scheme of Investigation.  

The Archaeological Evaluation works comprised the machine excavation of fifteen trenches, which revealed evidence of prehistoric settlements in certain areas where solar panels were planned; including pottery shards, flints, post-holes and possible enclosure features. This work, carried out in a timely manner, provided the Local Planning Authority with enough information to properly understand the proposals in relation to the historic environment and confirm consent for the scheme.

Balancing the needs of Development with the Historic Environment

Throughout the 2-year planning process, AB Heritage consultants maintained regular communication with our client, along with the Local Planning Authority and other stakeholders, discussing emerging results and negotiating an appropriate strategy for archaeology.

This was an extensive and, at times, complex site, but our client was able to rely on the AB Heritage team for a proactive and professional approach to the management of the historic environment, ensuring a way forward to enable development to progress while at the same time balancing the needs of the historic environment record.