Ecosystem restoration project is the bee’s knees for 400,000 hungry pollinators

Native plant initiative supports bees, butterflies and grassland birds at Sarnia Solar Farm

Some new tenants have moved in at Sarnia Solar Farm, and the neighborhood is abuzz.

In April, five full honeybee colonies—an estimated total of 400,000 bees—were introduced to the Enbridge energy generation facility as part of an ongoing pollinator program.

“The bees are rockin’. They’re doing very well there,” says Tyler Atkins of BLB Honey and Beekeeping Supplies in nearby Dresden, Ontario, which is managing the honeybee program at Sarnia Solar Farm.

“There’s an abundance of flowers and native plants at the farm, and that means lots of forage for the bees,” adds Bria Atkins of BLB. “At the end of June, each hive had produced 100 pounds of honey, with lots of time left in the season—so their potential is looking great.”

This pollinator program is part of a larger five-year partnership between Sarnia Solar Farm—which has 1.3 million solar energy panels deployed on 650 of its 1,100 acres—and Return the Landscape, an Ontario non-profit that focuses on ecological restoration.

A milkweed-for-monarchs initiative with Return the Landscape has also brought in scores of monarch caterpillars and butterflies feeding on some of the 1,400 milkweed plugs planted on the farm in 2017.

“This was a natural extension of our work at the Sarnia Solar Farm,” says Shawn McKnight of Return the Landscape. “We only use native plants in our landscape design and restoration—and when we’re done our work at the farm, it will be the largest meadow grassland in Ontario, outside of Walpole Island.”

As part of this partnership to restore biodiversity at the farm’s local ecosystem:

  • A wetland habitat has been created, and a woodland habitat has been expanded;
  • Native plants grown at Return the Landscape’s greenhouse, on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, are regularly planted on the farm; and
  • A tallgrass prairie environment has attracted grassland birds, including sparrows, eastern meadowlarks, short-eared owls and dark-eyed juncos.

Pollinators, especially bees, monarchs and bats, have seen alarming population declines in North America in recent years. BLB’s five colonies of native Ontario honeybee stock will live permanently on Sarnia Solar Farm, an 80-megawatt facility that produces enough electricity to power about 14,500 homes.

“This past winter took a heavy toll in Ontario. A lot of people lost honeybees, whether it was due to the bad winter, chemicals and pesticides, or the simple lack of food for bees to forage on,” says Tyler Atkins.

“But what’s going on at the solar farm, with all those native species being planted, is just fantastic for the honeybees. For them and other pollinators, it really, really helps them out.”