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Rethinking the vineyard environment: Hawke’s Bay winegrower implements biodiversity

A Hawke’s Bay Vineyard owner has found a novel way to introduce biodiversity, by taking out a row of vines and replacing it with a corridor of indigenous species.

Xan Harding, Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers Association vice-chairman, retrofitted a 350 by two-metre strip three years ago on his Maraekakaho Road property as a way of encouraging native birds, insects and herpetofauna (skinks and geckos) back into the area.

He says they were conscious of the shared borders between vineyards that are “effectively not doing anything” but provide access on either side of the fence line for both parties.

“You smack a fence down the middle and all of a sudden you’ve got quite a big area - double the area that you actually need,” he said.

“In our case, we couldn’t negotiate with the neighbours to take the fence out and move it so we just thought ‘okay we will take a row out ourselves, we will sacrifice that’. It’s 0.5 per cent of the vineyard, so it’s not a hell of a lot but look at what we can do.”

Harding says the benefits, albeit psychological rather than financial, far outweigh the minor loss of productive land and creates a “reservoir” for plants and animals.

“It’s about enjoyment. It’s not a financial benefit but it’s a small trade-off that we can do for the benefit of knowing you are doing the right thing and making a difference.”

Their approach is one of low energy, low impact, and low effort. “There is no point in putting something in that need too much care and attention. They’ve got to be reasonably robust.”

It was set up specifically as a trial to see how they can use local materials found in the vineyard and bring back varieties of plants that would have been there pre-European.

As Harding’s passion is skinks and geckos, he has tailored the strip to support the native lizards by using loose stones in the vineyard to create rockeries and planting varieties of native plants that provide a source of food and shelter.

While it is not sufficient yet, they have noticed that by stopping mowing and letting the grass grow, it supports Pukeko, where it did not before.

 However, Harding says it will have “more of an effect in the long-term” compared to the nectar generating trees they have planted around their house which is having more of a short-term effect.

“The smaller plants are flowering already but the larger ones will still be another two to three years away before they get to a decent size,” he said.

Harding says they try to operate in a “holistic” way, rather than being tied to one type of growing philosophy like organics or biodynamics. “It is about doing the smarter thing.”

They do things where they can, Harding says, including not using weed spray where possible, and only mowing half of the block at any one time to ensure there is always flowering plants.

They also installed solar panels four years ago for their irrigation system, have electric vehicles, and only employ full-time staff.

He says it is about responding to climate change, as grapes are “particularly sensitive” to the climate.

“You see it as a grape grower. Every year on average you’re getting earlier bud burst and earlier ripening, so we see that, and we want to do our little bit to respond and do our share.

“You can’t address climate change without addressing biodiversity because biodiversity is affected negatively by climate change.”

Biodiversity Hawke’s Bay general manager Debbie Monahan said the organisation welcomed biodiversity projects of all sizes as each one helped make a difference.

“It is good to see growers and vineyard owners like Xan taking the initiative to enhance biodiversity in this way.”

6 January 2021

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