Wine & Biodiversity Crisis
Why Regenerating Biodiversity is so critical to our future
Functioning biodiverse ecosystems literally keep the human race alive on our fragile planet. Ecosystems produce the food we eat, purify water we drink, generate the oxygen we breathe, and much more. Biodiversity matters because if it collapses we go with it, and in Australia we are facing a biodiversity crisis!
What is Biodiversity? It’s the variety of all life forms - all the different plants, animals, and micro-organisms, the genes they contain and the interactions between all the life forms.
It’s all of these life forms working together which drive the functioning ecosystems that we depend on for survival … systems such as soil formation, nutrient cycling, hydrological cycles, crop pollination, plant photosynthesis, and more. Agriculture, including viticulture, depend totally on the interactions between nature’s biodiverse elements.
The Australian continent is host to one of the most important biodiverse places on the planet. Yet our ecosystems and species are suffering an extinction crisis, largely driven by 250 years of land-clearing and the introduction of invasive species since European settlement. When Europeans came to Australia, colonial governments of the day deemed the land to be ‘nullus’ (empty). Settlers were granted titles take up land produce food the colonies, conditional on clearing at least 10 acres a year. Today, around 90 percent of Australian vegetation cover has been cleared, and still 700,00 hectares are being cleared annually, with disastrous impacts for biodiversity and ecosystems.
Early European settlers here mistakenly assumed that, once the land was cleared, it would have an agricultural capacity similar to that of Europe and the capacity to sustain indefinitely hard-hooved animals and continuous cropping. But Australia is the flattest, lowest, driest continent on earth, with totally different geo-physical and hydrological conditions to the northern hemisphere. Much of Australia was below sea-level 60 million years ago, so salinity is a problem when vegetation is cleared. During the same long periods glaciers in Europe were weathering and renewing soils, wind erosion was depleting ours so we have far less soil than in northern hemisphere, and the soil we do have is older, more fragile and less fertile.
Over aeons, Australia’s low-nutrient soils evolved in tandem with soft-footed native fauna and cope well with these creatures, but they cannot cope longer term with hard-hooved animals grazing the same areas of land continuously, nor with constant intensive cropping.
The impact of clearing and invasive species on Australia’s ecosystems has been devastating for biodiversity. Soil degradation and habitat and species loss is now extreme in many regions, with over 90 percent of ecological communities lost. Over 100 Australian species are already listed as Extinct or Extinct in the Wild and 550 of our native animals are at risk of extinction. (True numbers are likely to be higher as many species are poorly surveyed). The increasingly extreme events of a changing climate are placing our precious habitat, wildlife and ecosystems under even greater pressure.
The huge challenge facing Australia today: ‘How do we keep producing food which takes FROM the land, while simultaneously caring FOR the land by restoring ecosystems?’
As a nation our country must continue producing food and fibre. We’re an island continent so we must be able to feed our own people and Australia plays a critical role in supplying food to the globe; and agriculture is vital to regional economies. How to create the balance between biodiversity and productivity?
BR responds to Biodiversity Crises – bringing big benefits
We’re committed to looking after the land so the land can look after future generations and are working to balance biodiversity and productivity. Over four decades we’ve been surrounding vineyards and production areas with networks of native vegetation or ‘bio-corridors’. It’s win/win, because this enhances both biodiversity and BR wine quality.
Bio-corridors of native vegetation now network across half the farm landscape, surrounding BR vineyards, grazing areas and wetlands and running along creeks and roadsides.
Functioning ecosystems grow healthy vines & quality grapes for BR worldclass wines
The above diagram, together with Tim Jones’ dynamic engravings From the land. For the Land, depict the win/win benefits to both biodiversity and productivity that flow from regenerating native bio-corridor networks around farm production areas.
Baddaginnie Run wine benefits because the bio-corridors networking across our landscape literally create the BR terroir - the complex set of healthy ecosystems which is the basis for the production of the high quality grapes from which BR’s world-class wines are crafted. And world class wines yield returns, which in turn support on-going land regeneration costs.
Environmental benefits from regenerating Biodiversity in bio-corridor networks include:
- Recycling soil nutrients, helping to control soil erosion and saline water tables (via deep rooted perennial vegetation) protecting water quality
- Re-establishing diverse ecosystems - above and below ground
- Sequestering vast quantities of carbon
- Creating connected habitat that brings wildlife back to farm landscapes, so enabling fauna to cope better with climate change because their capacity to move safely up slope in search of favourable conditions for adaptation and survival has been enhanced.
Productivity benefits from regenerating Biodiversity include:
- Ameliorating the hotter on-ground temperatures that are coming with climate change
- Creating healthy ecosystems - the basis for producing quality goods of higher value, which in turn attract better prices and yield better returns
- Improving soil structure, control salinity and erosion and inhibit sediment entering water
- Providing shade and shelter for stock - which also control wildfire-fuel loads
- Creating landscape beauty and amenity that brings joy and satisfaction to those living on and working the land. It helps keep us healthy, mentally and physically, for there’s so much in seeing the flora and fauna return and hearing the birds sing.
For BR Wine, the benefits regenerating biodiversity by restoring native flora around vineyards, includes enhancing BR wine quality. We think our Wild Ferment Shiraz is the best we’ve produced in quarter of a century. The secret to this Shiraz comes from the abundance of natural yeasts now in our vineyards, which in turn are part of the ecosystems reflected in rich wildlife, biota and micro-organisms above and below ground. Family and friends helped with hand picking grapes, and international winemaker Ken Chase helped Snow make the wine in the Vineyard shed, so as to ensure that ONLY natural yeasts could impact processes.
Let esteemed sommelier Derek Lyall tell you how he feels about this BR wine:
“Enjoyed a bottle of this Wild Ferment Shiraz last week with a chef friend over lamb. This style of shiraz is so much more satisfying than the big SA ones. A fine elegant wine, it dances seamlessly across the palate. Subtle herbal and light floral notes and delicate lingering mouthfeel. Medium weight tannins are fine but noted. Finish is balanced. Enough length to savour all its flavours and leave me wanting still another sip. No, frankly another glass!”
Planning & Establishing Bio-corridor Networks
Bio-corridor networks are the areas of land on which native flora is being regenerated, protected and connected up across the farm landscape. Long term, the aim is to connect farm bio-corridors with remnant bush along waterways, roads and rail across catchments. We hope all Australian farmers and viticulturalists will develop bio-corridor networks across their rural properties. It’s a long-term process, but one that’s highly worthwhile, economically and socially.
Process starts with creating a Bio-corridors Plan as part of a Farm Plan. Ultimately, you will be aiming to design a growing network of bio-corridors across the landscape that runs along creeks and roads and surrounds wetlands, dwellings and farm production areas. Opinions vary on best design / width of corridors. See Land for Wildlife notes for some basic concepts: https://www.lfwseq.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Wildlife-Corridors.pdf
Ten steps for creating a bio-corridor networks (based on our experience) include:
- Research information, including talking to local/regional landcare and wildlife experts:
- on local native plant species that are suitable to your land’s particular conditions
- good practice on regenerating native flora
- regenerative farming and sustainable farming practices
- Create a geo-physical map of your property- beginning with downloading an aerial map
- Layer a soil-type map onto aerial map; walk land regularly to learn its properties
- Map-in the land most suited to and essential for farm production
- Map-in remnant bushland and regenerated flora (for future Conservation Management)
- Map-in any valuable vegetation on neighbouring land (for future connectivity)
- Map-in ‘landscape linkage areas’; i.e. areas to be regenerated to create connectivity between existing and newly-regenerated native vegetation
- Map-in a long-term, ‘whole-of-farm’ Fencing Plan* that’s designed to:
- protect existing areas of native remnant vegetation from stock and feral animals
- protect areas yet to be regenerated with native vegetation - in future and over time
- enable grazing farm animals to be rotated regularly through relatively small paddocks, to avoid soil compaction, support native grasses, enhance stock health.
- Restore native vegetation through a combination of tube-stock and direct-seeding
- Control feral pests that kill small native species and weeds that overtake native grasses.
Protecting and managing Bio-corridor Networks
Fencing is expensive so for most of us, implementing a Fencing Plan is an incremental process involving a combination of fixed-fencing, electric fencing, other electronic measures and sturdy tree guards. Forty years ago, we invested in making 60 strong tree guards which we’ve re-used scores of times and are still in constant use today. We made them by rolling up lengths of Reo mesh and wrapped these in wire netting. They
We graze stock within fenced-off areas of established bush, on an occasional and short term basis. This helps control fire fuel loads and weeds, whilst providing stock with shade and shelter on days of extreme temperature.