Yorkshire family fighting to save farm from major development and 'thousands of glaring solar panels'

A North Yorkshire couple are fighting to stop a renewable energy company from covering almost half their farmland with solar panels.

Robert and Emma Sturdy with their children Sebastian and Lizzie
Robert and Emma Sturdy with their children Sebastian and Lizzie

Robert, 50, and Emma Sturdy, 42, who run Eden Farm near Old Malton, were devastated when they were told about 130 acres of the land they tend to, which is owned by Fitzwilliam Trust Corporation, has been earmarked for a solar farm with as many as 92,500 panels.

Harmony Energy, which is preparing a planning application for the scheme and wants to lease the land for 40 years, said the panels could generate enough renewable energy to power 14,000 local homes a year, but the farmers claimed it will take high-quality farmland out of production.

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Mr Sturdy’s grandfather arrived at the farm in 1954 and his later father, John, took over in 1971. He has run the farm since 2014 and now lives there with his wife and their two children Sebastian, seven, and Lizzie, four.

“It’s an incredibly stressful time. It feels like the rug has been pulled from under us,” he said.

“I took over the tenancy in 2014 and my dad felt he could rest easy - that we had a formal Agricultural Holdings Act (AHA) tenancy agreement in place that allowed for the next generation after me to take over.

“It’s like a bad dream; that instead of opening curtains and looking out onto fields of corn or cattle grazing there could be thousands of glaring solar panels.”

He also said the family do not oppose the use of solar panels, but they should not be installed on “top-grade agricultural land”.

Mrs Sturdy added: “It’s beautiful here, we are producing food and we are feeding people.

“Yes there is the green debate, but put it (the solar farm) on low-grade land, put it on a brownfield site or put it on some Amazon warehouse rooftops.

“In addition, it is such a terrible waste to take such good quality farmland out of production. It’s producing good-quality British food and providing habitat for everything from barn owls to deers, hares, skylarks.”

She added: “Leaving is not an option, we’re not thinking of leaving. This is our home, it’s everything. You don’t just walk away.”

A Harmony Energy spokesman said the site has been earmarked for a solar farm because it is close to grid sub stations in Old Malton and could run without subsidies.

“Without this proximity, the economics do not work,” he said.

“Ryedale District Council declared a Climate Emergency in 2019, setting a target to achieve net zero emissions across Ryedale by 2050 and we all have a duty to help combat climate change. This project would be a key contributor towards achieving that target, supporting the provision of clean, renewable energy in Ryedale.

“Harmony is firmly committed to enhancing the biodiversity of land on which we develop. Once the solar panels are installed the soil will remain untouched for 40 years.”

The Fitzwilliam Trust Corporation has been approached for a comment.

Rob Hicks, of Ryedale National Farmers Union, said building a solar farm on this site in North Yorkshire would result in the loss of “prime farmland”.

“Recent events have highlighted the importance of food security and British farmers have been proud to have kept the UK supplied with food during these difficult times,” said Mr Hicks.

“We are very concerned about this proposal which takes a huge chunk of prime Ryedale farmland out of production. Mr and Mrs Sturdy grow award-winning crops and this loss of arable land will remove around 1,000 tonnes of grain from the food supply chain.”