Out of the monoculture: the idea behind "Ambito" comes from the winegrowers themselves. "In our certification of the sustainability of wineries, their work on biodiversity is also assessed," explains Keith Ulrich, project manager and chairman of Fair'n Green. The association issues a seal for sustainable viticulture and helps winemakers to make defined goals objectively measurable. "In the process, we noticed that many producers would like to do more for biodiversity. However, they lack the knowledge of what kind of approach makes sense at all." This is how the concept of "Ambito" came about, to develop a toolbox adapted to the respective locations with clear recommendations for the winegrowers: "It was particularly important to us that this is not just about the Fair'n Green farms, but about the entire German winegrowing sector," says Ulrich.
The association has already been working with the Geisenheim University of Applied Sciences for a year on the first steps. The six-year project is funded by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation with money from the Federal Ministry for the Environment. At the end of the project, winegrowers from all regions of Germany will have a knowledge and solution kit at their disposal. It is to be used to guide them in concrete steps to improve biodiversity in the vineyard and on the farm.
Two special features characterise viticulture in this context. On the one hand, viticulture as a monoculture is particularly prone to represent the exact opposite of biodiversity. On the other hand, vineyards as permanent crops offer the chance to develop the diversity of native fauna and flora in the long term.
"Entire landscapes are shaped by viticulture, so you also have to see the issue of biodiversity in the overall context of the landscape," says Ulrich. Aerial photographs from the 1950s show the clear structural change in viticulture: instead of small-scale landscapes with trees, hedge strips and fallow land between the vineyard areas, land consolidation often resulted in monotonous vineyard landscapes. Compared to arable farming with its crop rotations, however, vineyards offer special starting points. Keith Ulrich has his eye above all on the intermediate rows, which he wants to transform into biotopes for native insects and small animals by sowing them. "Here, too, climate change is now playing a major role. We're working on developing seed mixes that germinate and flower out with little rain and at high temperatures."
For Keith Ulrich, however, it's not just about using existing structures differently, but also developing new habitat for plants and animals - for example, by creating fallows in the form of "pinch areas". These are areas in tapered vineyards where viticulture work is very laborious and is therefore often abandoned. But even taking out individual rows in the vineyard creates new opportunities. "With such proposals, however, one has to keep in mind that this does not put the winegrowers at a disadvantage," Keith Ulrich is aware. After all, the winegrower is doing something for society, and that must be rewarded.
In the individual wine regions, the experts are sounding out the prospects for more diversity together with many partner wineries, and they are also cultivating vineyards to demonstrate the possibilities. "It makes little sense to think of biodiversity only in terms of individual spots; you have to network structures and include the whole environment." At Stefan Braunewell's vineyard in Essenheim in the Rhineland Hesse region, for example, the test trials with broadly laid out fringing strips next to and in front of the vineyard have become a hit. Inspired by the winemaker's work, the neighbours were also quickly convinced. This resulted in a much larger fringe than originally planned.
"We are now planning, together with the nature conservation association, to introduce the project throughout the village," says Stefan Braunewell, positively surprised by the feedback from his colleagues. He hopes that this will not only boost biodiversity but also tourism in the region: "There is a hiking trail here that has been somewhat forgotten in recent years. You could revive it with this project."
In order to develop the right ideas, however, one must not only take into account the climatic and geological conditions, but also the natural occurrences of plants and animals. The participating farms monitor the existing species partly on their own: "We were asked to look out for so-called geophytes in our vineyards, i.e. plants that survive permanently in the vineyards. This gave me a whole new perspective on my vineyards. I was surprised that the grape hyacinth is on the red list because it is there for me as a matter of course," reports the Essenheim winemaker. This is feedback that Keith Ulrich often receives. "If such species as the wild tulip or the grape hyacinth are present, it is a matter of propagating them for us in order to spread and secure their natural occurrence. In no case do we want to establish alien and new species in a region, but rather promote the natural occurrences," Ulrich explains the idea.
That's why it's not just about cover crop, but also about planting hedge strips, planting trees, putting out nesting boxes, piling up stones - lots of small changes that add up to a big effect. "These things pay off in many ways," says Ulrich. More insects, for example, mean more food for birds, which again get suitable nest boxes to create new breeding opportunities. "We also expect this to have a positive effect on the plant protection of the vines," the project manager tells us, "a healthy environment with lots of beneficial insects also makes for a more resistant vineyard."
The vintners' response to the offer is great. "We have over 90 participating wineries, the demand has been enormous. And the willingness to go along with even unusual steps is very great," Ulrich is pleased about their commitment. "Biodiversity has been on our minds as a winery for a long time and we have noticed that the increasing drought, for example, has made greening more and more difficult. We discuss this with colleagues and have to realise that the theory from our studies no longer fits at all. We wanted to see these questions about how to deal with this scientifically accompanied," Stefan Braunewell says about his motivation to get involved with "Ambito". This confirms the experience of the project leader: "The younger generation is more concerned with sustainability and wants to go new ways. Biodiversity plays a big role in this