Biodiversity – the variety and variability of animals, plants, and micro-organisms at the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels – is necessary to sustain key functions of the ecosystem, its structure, and processes.
Biodiversity takes into consideration the complex interactions between the flora (plant life) and fauna (animal life) inside this natural ecosystem. The more diverse these two categories, the more robust and sustainable the ecosystem is within the vineyard.
Above ground biodiversity is of crucial importance and is primarily promoted through continuous species-rich ground cover, but also through activities such as agroforestry and habitat creation.
The first step in any biodiversity management or enhancement is to understand your farm and available resources. This not only includes the land area itself (vineyard production area and vineyard surrounds) but also refers to the participants involved in implementing the management plan and other resources available, for example financial resources, human resources, external information resources and equipment. A biodiversity audit provides a baseline of data at a given point of time that can be referred to over several years to measure the effectiveness of any Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP). It can be done annually, seasonally, or monthly depending on the level of detail required.
A Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) is a structured approach and can be used to identify priorities and plan a strategy for biodiversity conservation. This can encourage a balanced management approach that recognises the vineyard as part of an interconnected system and adopts practices that contribute to biodiversity and habitat improvements. This process should:
- be supported by ecology experts or consultants
- aim to conserve and maintain viable examples of the range of ecosystems normally found within the region
- encourage the strategic use of flora species when restoring degraded areas
- protect and enhance any remnant flora and fauna habitats on the property
Research shows positive influence of a diverse range of vegetation on the abundance and diversity of natural enemies – adding vegetation in identified areas can be cost effective in terms of pest control. In nearly all cases, the impact of ‘weeds’ and introduced pest plants is associated with a decline in native species richness or diversity.
Understanding the impact of chemicals on insects within your vineyard is also highly beneficial. A key tool in the preservation of aboveground biodiversity in vineyards is the reduction and optimisation of pesticide use as these can generate a risk to non-target arthropods such as bees. Control of insect and mite pests in vineyards is provided both through applications of chemicals and through the action of natural enemies of pests including numerous invertebrate predators and parasitoids. However, these methods of control are not necessarily compatible because the application of many chemicals can have a negative impact on natural enemies present within a vineyard. More importantly it is essential to understand what natural predators you can attract to your vineyard and the habitat they require to sustain them throughout the times of the year that the vineyard does not provide this habitat.
The following tips will help support and enhance vineyard biodiversity:
- When planning or designing a vineyard, the surrounding and internal hedgerows, trees and other vegetation should be kept in situ and managed, as they provide food, shelter, a natural habitat and wildlife corridors
- Ground cover in vineyards should be maintained to provide rich habitats and biodiversity, which deliver beneficial ecosystem services. Establish a multi-species grass sward/cover interrow (not necessarily every row) and in unplanted vineyard areas to provide a habitat and food for predatory insects and pollinators. If sown, use a slow-growing seed mix to reduce the number of cuts/mows required. Use a native (to the landscape area) seed mix as ground cover. Mow only alternate rows to a manageable height and to keep the vineyard as dry as possible to reduce disease and aid day-to-day management.
- Beyond interrow cover, promote species biodiversity and habitats in unplanted areas of the vineyard. Introduce indigenous plants into vineyards
- Focus on Integrated Pest Management. There is an opportunity to develop a more integrated approach to plant protection, using a range of different pest management methods and using pesticides only when justified, through monitoring the pest, host and environment
- Reduce or eliminate undervine herbicide use
- Where windbreaks are established, these should also be viewed as wildlife corridors. Look at introducing lower growing vegetation and using a variety of native tree species to create the windbreaks
- The maintenance or promotion of a vineyard’s potential ecological infrastructure beyond the vineyard floor/ground should be considered. This includes management of surrounding hedges, trees/woodland, grassland, meadows, and other habitats. All should be mapped and have associated management recommendations made by conducting an ecology survey
- Additionally, species of earthworms, beetles, butterflies, birds, spiders, grasshoppers, insect pollinators and predatory vertebrates that exist in and/or around a vineyard could be attracted to the vineyard’s environment by drawing on expert advice. This may involve, for example, establishing beehives, owl boxes or wood piles