There’s red wine and white wine; but how do we make green wine?

Wildflowers - credit Duncan Westbury
Wildflowers - photo credit: Duncan Westbury

Currently, most vineyards require the extensive use of chemicals like insecticides to control diseases and pests but the use of these products has implications for our health, biodiversity, and the environment.

Because of the ongoing concerns around their direct and indirect impacts, there’s increasing pressure on growers to reduce their reliance on chemicals.

Over the next three years a study which is carried out in collaboration with the Royal Agricultural University will look at how effective wildflower habitats are in the alleyways between rows of vines in supporting the natural enemies of the pests attacking the grapes and how these habitats can improve soil health, boost biodiversity and the overall health of the vines.

The overall objective is to develop a more resilient and sustainable approach to grape production in the UK.

Around the world there has already been lots of research into vineyards, which has been great for UK growers, but these regions have different landscapes, climates, and pests; British growers need studies to be carried out here, looking at the issues they face.

There are currently 3,800 hectares of vineyards in the UK that would directly benefit from this research.

Duncan Westbury, Professor of Sustainable Agriculture at the RAU who is an external supervisor of the project, says: “Grape growers need to future-proof production by not only having a greater reliance on alternative pest and disease management strategies, but also strategies to capture and store more carbon in the soil”.

“So far, research in this area has focused on ways to maximise the quality and quantity of grapes.” says Professor Westbury. He says: “We now need research which will take the industry forward with regards to its environmental sustainability”.

Dr Duncan Westbury

Wine production in the UK has increased exponentially in recent years, which has been coupled with more land being used for grape growing. Importantly, the demand for UK wine is expected to continue to rise from 5.9 million bottles being produced in 2018 to 40 million by 2040.

Professor Duncan Westbury says: “A blueprint for the management of UK vineyards is essential if the sector is to proceed with excellent environmental credentials while expanding exponentially”.

Joe Leaper is the student who will be conducting the research for his PhD. He says: “It feels great to be taking on this study and it’s really exciting”. He says: “I’ve studied below ground ecology before, and looking at the scope of this study it’s exciting to think this could be a real influence for the future, from the labels on the bottles of wine on shop shelves to the policies and procedures which grape growers and wine producers follow”.

The study is being funded by the Perry Foundation, the University of Worcester, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Everflyht Vineyard.

Second photo: Professor Duncan Westbury