Strolling through the nature of solar farm De Blauwe Poort

Ensuring that nature benefits: that is the goal of nature-inclusive design, says landscape architect Arda van Helsdingen. She created the landscape design for solar farm De Blauwe Poort "together with the environment, because you want people to feel involved as well."

Standing at the beginning of Solar farm De Blauwe Poort, one notices that there are no fences around it. Ditches with swaying reeds enclose the solar farm. A walking path takes you past a row of pollard willows and to a bench overlooking De Blauwe Poort, the pond after which the park is named. The footpath connects to a trail that runs through the middle of the park and leads to a watchtower. Climb the steps and you'll have a magnificent view of the sunbathing panels and the pond. Back down to earth, it's worth sinking through your knees to look for tracks of a polecat, badger or marten or check out the true cuckoo flower.

Multi-Dome Opportunities
This nature experience is the result of input the focus group gave landscape architect Arda van Helsdingen. "The design looked at how we could enhance the natural and cultural history of the area and enhance the habitat for all plants and animals. For example, the bench was brought in by the local history society to reflect on the history and special nature of that pond." 
This could be called multi-domain opportunities, a win-win situation for the flora and fauna on site. Arda prefers to use multi-domain opportunities in the context of all the organizations involved in the design process: the more their interests were honored, the greater the commitment to the solar farm. "I noticed that there was very little resistance. People recognized that the arrival of the solar farm could improve the habitat for plants and animals."

Wetland and greener
The biggest challenge in the nature-inclusive design was keeping the areas around the pond marshy and waterlogged. Dry ground is less interesting to the species of plants and animals that inhabit it than swampy ground. Nature-friendly banks were also constructed that leave room for plants and animals, and solar panels were raised higher. "This allows more light to get under the panels which allows herb-rich grass to grow and makes the whole area look greener."

After the construction, Arda's work was over. Management of the solar farm is in the hands of a nearby farmer. "If I'm near De Blauwe Poort, I'll definitely go and see what the solar farm looks like. The landscape designs I make are for the people and animals who live there. If I see them enjoying themselves, then I am satisfied." Interested in the landscape design of the solar farm? Check out 

Arda van Helsdingen, landscape architect

Laarbeek Energie communicates with feeling

With heart and soul, the young cooperative Laarbeek Energie is committed to involving the surrounding area in their initiatives, including participating in solar farm De Blauwe Poort. "We put a lot of effort into the communication with a customized story that touches," says chairman Frits Swinkels.

Ideally, Frits Swinkels takes interested parties to solar farm De Blauwe Poort for a short walk to the viewing tower and walks back via the walking path. "It's a five-minute walk, but I can easily take an hour to talk about how nature, biodiversity, renewable energy and technology come together here. People can see with their own eyes that you don't have to sacrifice land if you build a nature-inclusive solar farm."

Laarbeek Energie was founded in 2022. The cooperative is now in negotiations to become co-owner of De Blauwe Poort. "We are indebted to Stichting Platform Duurzaam Laarbeek, which has been involved in the development of the solar farm from the beginning. Among other things, Laarbeek Energie was established to ensure that residents of the municipality of Laarbeek could participate in De Blauwe Poort," Frits explains. "But we do more, as a cooperative we want to approach the full width of the energy issue for the residents of the municipality."

Despite more than a hundred people becoming members of the cooperative in six months, the number of residents willing to participate in De Blauwe Poort is still too few, Frits says.  "Because of the election results in 2023 and negative electricity prices, we will have to work even harder on that. The involvement of our members is high, but I notice that we have to build our message differently to also get groups involved that are less concerned with climate change. The fact that Green Trust is not a commercial foreign company and the good contacts with the municipality and councilors help and increase the support base of Laarbeek Energie." 

Not an accounting story
The cooperative has a good image of the different groups of residents and looks at how best to reach each group. People who are concerned about the future of their (grand)children are already participating. "We are still not reaching enough young people but we want to improve that with a young member of our Advisory Board. He is 24 years old. We are also going to use social media widely. There are still gains to be made in club life and local business. I am an organizational consultant and know from experience that a story from the heart sticks better than a story from the accountant," says Frits.

Together with Green Trust, Laarbeek Energie worked on a communication strategy that appeals to people's social responsibility and their own responsibility regarding the climate," says Frits. "By appealing to that sense of responsibility, we try to make it clear that participating and becoming sustainable is for one's own long-term benefit. Everyone wants to leave a better world for their children and grandchildren; we try to evoke that feeling. However, you have to do something for that." 

Frits Swinkels, chairman cooperation Laarbeek Energie

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