Biodiversity and Wine Initiative

Dornier's BWI certificate here

The BWI is a pioneering partnership between the South African wine industry and the conservation sector. The goals are to minimise the further loss of threatened natural habitat, and to contribute to sustainable wine production.

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity refers to all the genes, species, ecosystems and processes that allow life to persist over time. When biodiversity is intact, species and ecosystems are resilient, enabling them to adapt to environmental changes. When biodiversity is lost, nature responds unpredictably, making it difficult for growers to plan production and protect natural resources.

The Biodiversity & Wine Initiative (BWI)

The Cape Floral Kingdom (CFK) is the smallest yet richest plant kingdom on earth, and has earned international recognition as a global biodiversity hotspot and as South Africa's newest World Heritage Site. However, the CFK is under increasing threat from agriculture, urban development and invasive alien plant species, with less than 9% of the unique Renosterveld and Lowland Fynbos ecosystems remaining, and much of the Succulent Karoo also under threat. Since 80% of the CFK is privately owned, landowner participation in conservation efforts is essential.

South Africa is a large producer of wine, and approximately 90% of this wine production occurs within the CFK. Because of the growth of the South African Wine industry in the years since 1994, concern began mounting that some of the region's most vulnerable natural habitat might be targeted for vineyard expansion. Following an initial study by the Botanical Society of South Africa and Conservation International, the wine industry and the conservation sector embarked on a pioneering partnership to conserve the rich biodiversity of the CFK.

The BWI was established as a partnership between industry and conservation in November 1994. It is an initiative based within the South African office of the global conservation organisation, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The BWI aims to:

1. Prevent further loss of habitat in critical conservation priority sites;
2. Increase the total area set aside as natural habitat in contractual protected areas; and
3. Promote changes in farming practices that enhance the suitability of vineyards as habitat for biodiversity, and reduce farming practices that have negative impacts on biodiversity, both in the vineyards and in surrounding natural habitat, through the sound management of all natural resources and maintenance of functioning ecosystems.

To become a BWI member, producers must have at least two hectares of natural or restored natural area on the farm that can be conserved. Members must be registered with the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) scheme and will therefore be compliant with the industry-prescribed environmental responsibilities. Members might not necessarily have implemented all the required management actions for retaining biodiversity (eg alien clearing, erosion control, rehabilitation of wetlands and rivers, appropriate fire management, etc), but do have time-based plans and schedules in place to ensure a process of continual improvement. BWI members are committed to keeping their demarcated natural area(s) conserved, and must not develop new vineyards in these areas.

BWI Champions are exemplary producers who have earned additional recognition and status for their excellent track record as leaders in environmentally responsible farming practices. They can be regarded as the flagship farms within the industry with regards to the conservation of biodiversity. These farms have a comprehensive conservation management plan in place with dedicated staff members implementing these plans, including extensive alien clearing, fire management and voluntary conservation agreements committing their natural areas to long-term conservation. Champions have all the necessary permits and authorisations in place because they have successfully passed an external IPW audit.

The impact of the BWI on the vineyard-growing areas of the Cape has been phenomenal, and has become an international benchmark for conservation and business partnerships. As of March 2010, there are 15 champions, 12 producer cellar members and 142 members enlisted in BWI. The total area conserved among all the members and champions is 118 500 hectares, which represents almost 120% of the total vineyard footprint in the Cape winelands.

The BWI is consulting to other winegrowing areas of the world on how to protect their endangered Mediterranean habitats and use the appropriate management of biodiversity as a strategy to adapt to climate change.

Biodiversity Guidelines & IPW
One of the most important principles of IPW is that production should proceed in harmony with nature a principle shared by the BWI.

The IPW guidelines for farms consist of 15 chapters that address all cultivation aspects, such as correct selection of cultivars, vineyard layout, irrigation, Integrated Pest Management, pruning etc. Previously, the content of Chapter 2, entitled Conservation and improvement of the farm and vineyard environment', was minimal and did not adequately address certain issues such as threatened ecosystems like Renosterveld or Lowland Fynbos, or the need to remove alien invasive plants, which are outcompeting natural vegetation and consume excessive amounts of water in an already water-scarce country. Therefore, the contents of this section were distributed to a number of conservation experts for comment by the BWI. In May 2004, a revised version of Chapter 2 was officially accepted by the IPW Committee for the 2004/5 production years. Chapter 2 of IPW is now more commonly referred to as the Biodiversity Guidelines'.

It is these specific guidelines that the BWI is seeking to promote and assist producers to implement. All producers are required to evaluate their farms based on these new guidelines. The BWI has produced a biodiversity guideline self-assessment form which consists of 40 questions to help guide the producer in allocating the appropriate score for this section on the overall IPW evaluation forms, and point out areas that farm management can improve on.

 

Fine an overview of the wildlife at Dornier here