Building biodiversity back into the wine business
May 22nd is International Day for Biological Diversity; this year's theme, Biodiversity and Agriculture, aims to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable agriculture to preserve biodiversity, but also to feed the world, maintain livelihoods, and enhance human wellbeing.
Biodiversity (short for biological diversity, which, simply put, means the variety of life of earth), is the basis of agriculture; it is the origin of all crops and livestock and the variety within them. Although agriculture can contribute to the maintenance of biodiversity, it is one of the major drivers of biodiversity loss. Farmers and other producers are custodians of agricultural biodiversity.
Since 2005, Earthwatch and Syngenta have been working together to raise understanding of environmental stewardship, through research on ways of combining crop production and biodiversity conservation in European agriculture. Two projects on biodiversity and productive farming have been launched. The first looks at biodiversity in a mixed arable farming landscape in the Cotswolds in England, while the second is in the vineyards of Bordeaux in France. A third project on biodiversity in the olive groves of southern Spain is under development. These projects offers great opportunities for experiential learning: volunteers, including company employees, teachers and conservationists learn by getting involved in research alongside scientists at the field sites.
Biodiversity and vineyards
In the famous wine producing areas of France such as Bordeaux, viticulture is the main agricultural land use, with up to 75 per cent of the total land area devoted to vineyards. The impact of this widespread monoculture on biodiversity is significant. Wine producers, consumers and traders are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, and agro-tourism is becoming more important. Improving vineyard biodiversity has many benefits, including helping to keep vine pests and diseases in check, and can help reduce soil erosion and agro-chemical run-off. Wine growers traditionally do not seek to maximise yields, but instead focus on the quality of the grape. The soil, geography, climate and other characteristics of the local area contribute to the unique qualities of the wine, its terroir and there is an increasing desire among wine producers to preserve the natural features associated with this terroir.
Numerous ‘farmscaping' techniques, including creating hedgerows and encouraging ground cover between vine rows have been proposed and implemented to benefit biodiversity, but as monitoring the effects of these techniques requires specialist training to identify species, the impacts of these techniques are not often assessed or understood. The Earthwatch project Sampling Vineyard Ecology and Biodiversity in Bordeaux, based at Château les Vergnes, Gironde, aims to promote farmscaping practices to enhance biodiversity at the regional level in grape growing areas. To achieve this goal, appropriate methods have to be developed to quantify biodiversity in a simple and efficient way that can be used by non-experts. These techniques will empower farmers to be able to measure biodiversity in their vineyards and to assess the efficacy of techniques applied to boost biodiversity on their land.
This is a collaborative project of the Earthwatch Institute, the Bordeaux Agricultural University (ENITA de Bordeaux), Syngenta, the Univitis cooperative Winery and the Hunting Federation of the Gironde (Fédération départementale des chasseurs de la Gironde).
The main goal of the pilot field season in 2007 was achieved: to develop and test the feasibility of simple, fast yet scientifically reliable biodiversity measurements for birds, insects and plants, using non-expert volunteers. Field work included sampling of insects and plants on plots within the vineyard, followed by laboratory identification, as well as bird song identification. In future years, these methods can be applied to a landscape-scale to compare different landscape-types, in order to select farmscaping practices that promote biodiversity, and which can be put forward to farmers. From this spring, the project team is also aiming to establish a farmscaping and management plan for Château les Vergnes, as a demonstration project.
The project has a strong educational message; lead scientist Maarten van Helden says, "The educational aim of this work is to make people aware that ‘biodiversity' is not just focused on nature conservation or endangered species. By observing ‘common' biodiversity in a cultivated area, people start to appreciate the direct environment they are living in and understand that agriculture has a direct impact on biodiversity. Even very simple agro-environmental measurements that are easy to apply at the farm scale can improve biodiversity."
Did you know?
- The history of wine in the Bordeaux region dates back to the first century AD.
- The Bordeaux region produces more than 700 million bottles of wine a year, including some of the most expensive wines in the world.
- In the 12th century, the marriage of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor d'Aquitaine made the province of Aquitaine English territory. Bordeaux wine was then exported to England and became very popular.