The roles of agricultural biodiversity in the McLaren Vale landscape

A report prepared for the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Government of South Australia, October 2016.
Ecosystem management Regional planning Agriculture Biodiversity conservation McLaren Vale
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The biodiversity within agricultural systems can be overlooked by research and can also be considered of limited value in conservation policy and natural resource planning. In South Australia, the importance of diverse agricultural ecosystems (agro-ecosystems) are rarely analysed in depth or prioritised for conservation effort. Now, much of the diversity that remains within agro-ecosystems is under pressure due to the fundamental importance of productivity gains, technological change and associated production efficiencies. At the same time, new approaches to working with communities for conservation are being established in Australia and internationally, many of which focus on the importance of a heritage of biodiversity stewardship and sustainable use of resources. This report outlines the values of biodiversity in the viticultural/agricultural region of McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, with a focus on the processes of erosion and the uses of agricultural biodiversity, or agrobiodiversity, within local production systems.

In this study, example values of agrobiodiversity are analysed at field, farm and regional levels. The crops and animals used, the associated soil biota, native species within and adjacent to productive systems, as well as the landscapes themselves, could all be considered part of the regional agrobiodiversity. The research generated narratives on that biodiversity from the perspectives of landowners working in a range of important McLaren Vale agricultural industries through a series of “walk and talk” meetings. Field survey forms, and farm-scale and sub-regional maps identify diversity within the landscape, and that primary data is linked to existing information on regional landscapes. Together, the approach allows for a discussion of systemic and spatial elements of value, with the use of narratives, maps and physical attributions of value to places in the landscape. The report concludes by outlining the potential implications of landholder values of agrobiodiversity for conservation planning and policy. In addition, this study draws on a range of evidence of land use history and associated bio-cultural landscape values to propose that McLaren Vale has the potential to be recognised as an important heritage landscape.

The key issues are summarised into themes at local and regional scales. At a regional scale, much diversity was lost from agricultural systems during the expansion of the wine grape industry from the 1990s. The loss of agrobiodiversity increased production and marketing risks for many producers as they became dependent on one crop, with limited marketing channels. Nevertheless, there has been an increasing recognition of the important values of diversity within local agriculture for reasons including: habitat conservation; a harmonious existence with nature; aesthetic and spiritual values; pest and soil management; unique production processes and products; tourism; education; marketing; and water resource and climate change risk management. As the range of biodiversity values have been more strongly emphasised, a process of rediversification is underway as producers aim to generate ecologically resilient production systems and explore alternative production and profitable marketing opportunities, especially: organic and biodynamic 6 production; unique wines linked to different varieties and soils; the Willunga Farmers Market; and direct marketing and tourism. That re-evaluation of biodiversity is also important because much remaining native vegetation exists in farmers’ fields along creek lines or within the Hills Face Zone, which are managed within local agro-ecosystems.

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