Greening Waipara

August 2008
Greening Waipara is a biodiversity enhancement project on a large scale in the wine-growing region of North Canterbury around Waipara township.

Over 40 vineyards have planted native species to encourage natures services in pest and disease control, weed suppression, improved soil quality, conservation and eco-tourism. It also reduces the need for pesticides and herbicides. Wetlands are also created with native species that filter contaminated storm water and vineyard effluent.

The Waipara wine-growing area of North Canterbury is a place of extraordinary significance. Like much of eastern Canterbury, it was once covered in totara, matai, lacebark, kowhai, lancewood and broadleaf forest. It has been cleared for pastoralism and then for exotic forestry or horticulture.

Recently there has been a spontaneous enthusiasm among newer landowners to do something really special for the landscape on a large scale, to recognize the history of the land and build a regional identity and commitment to a true clean, green New Zealand. Landcare Research, Hurunui District Council, Lincoln University and local businesses and landowners have sought to calculate the value of services provided free by nature, such as biological control of pests, pollination, keeping soils fertile and many others. The project also aims to enhance these services through ecological engineering.

This is a win-win where research on natures services adds value through biocontrol and other environmentally friendly practices, such as reduced reliance on herbicides and pesticides, creation of swales and wetlands with native species to filter water run-off and vineyard effluent, using the restoration of habitat using native species which were once common. Shelterbelts, entranceways, stream and pond edges, vineyard borders and even vine rows themselves are receiving an ecological makeover. A key part of the research is looking at the sugar ratios in plant nectar and how these can be used to support beneficial insects, which control plant pests. A number of native species are showing real potential as companions to grapes.

For the past three years there have been mass planting days for landowners, residents, Lincoln University staff and students and Landcare Research staff and friends. By March 2008 nearly 20,000 native plants had been planted on 45 properties and public lands.

Initial funding for the project (which is an ongoing research work) was provided by Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. This provided the vineyard properties with a complete first set of native plants. This includes expertise, organizing and planting. It is then up to the owners to maintain the plants by mulching, weeding, irrigating and spraying of rabbit repellant.

For vineyards, native plantings encourage the return of invertebrates, soil stabilization and weed control while mulches and mown cover crops like buckwheat can help control of botrytis bunch rot in vines. An intriguing possibility from soil changes include more methanotrophs, a group of soil bacteria which consume atmospheric methane, and could therefore help to make the vineyards greenhouse gas neutral.

The whole Greening Waipara story of enhanced biodiversity provides good wine marketing benefits for the region, its wines, and for New Zealand.

The programme is now being publicized throughout other wine growing regions of New Zealand. Project leader Steve Wratten said he wants to complement the activities of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand by sharing best-practice biodiversity research from Waipara with all winegrowing regions.

New Zealand wines are top quality but represent only 0.5% of the world wine market. Exports are anticipated to reach $1 billion by 2010 but the wines have to fight in a competitive market. Residues, energy use, carbon emissions, water use all are part of the battery of market-based incentives to be demonstrably green. Waipara is showing the way, based on ecological science.