Saale-Unstrut is a traditional wine-producing area of some 770 ha in in southern Saxony-Anhalt. Its picturesque valleys have a specific sunny and dry micro-climate that is well-suited to growing grapes for wine. However, it is predicted that climate change will increasingly lead to aggravation of land-use conflicts. Rising average temperature and decreasing annual rainfall demand an adaptation of cultivation methods. Viticulture on steep slopes – already a challenging business – is endangered and could be replaced by more efficient vineyards in the plains. The steep slope areas would then face scrub encroachment and thus become less ecologically valuable.
The main objective of the LIFE VinEcoS project was to optimise ecosystem services in vineyards by testing climate-adapted methods in viticulture. In the first part of the project, relevant methods would be implemented on demonstration areas of the Kloster Pforta vineyard in the Saale-Unstrut area of Saxony-Anhalt.
The second half of the project was about testing these methods in other commercial vineyards in the region, as well as at the demonstration vineyard of the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences.
These trials allowed the project to evaluate the climate change adaptation measures in relation to the added-value of the ecosystem services provided by the vineyards. Ecosystem-based approaches, focusing on synergies between nature protection, climate protection and climate adaptation are more cost-efficient than technical solutions. In this way, the project aimed to contribute to the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change by supporting adaptation actions in vulnerable mountain areas with an emphasis on sustainable and resilient agricultural, forestry and tourism sectors. The project also further supported recent Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform to strengthen the competitiveness and the sustainability of agriculture and maintain its presence in all regions.
The project’s demonstration areas are partly located within the Natura 2000 network, and with addressing the conservation of target species, it was linking the project’s objectives with the EU Biodiversity strategy to 2020.
LIFE VinEcoS helped optimise ecosystem services in vineyards through the testing of climate-adapted methods in viticulture. To achieve cost efficient solutions, the project team created and utilised synergies between climate adaptation and nature conservation. The project’s methods were implemented in demonstration areas and their suitability analysed in terms of climate adaptation and agricultural yields (quality and quantity). The results of the project were actively communicated to stakeholders, and are applicable to wine growing regions across Europe.
The project addressed the relative lack of surveys, information and action related to optimising ecosystem services in viticulture. Biodiversity and climate are tightly interconnected, for instance, and some project demonstration areas were located within Natura 2000 sites where there is a focus on species conservation. Another focus was on the replacement of small-scale steep slope viticulture with cultivation in more efficient area, for instance, to reduce soil erosion.
Project trial demonstration sites had increased biodiversity. In particular:
- The number of wild bee species was 227% higher than in the control vineyard;
- The number of plant species in the project areas increased by 122% (before and after the trial), using multifunctional seed mixtures as a ground cover to enhance biodiversity, increase erosion control, and retain more water to prevent vine water stress;
- The project site with enhanced biodiversity increased during the project to 8 ha, and is expected to extend to 60 ha five years after the project;
- The soil humus content increased in trial vineyards with wild seed mixture by 75%.
Based on the positive project results, discussion were held with the federal government on how to support winegrowers in applying ecological and sustainable vineyard management methods. Federal agricultural funds (GAK) were made available to encourage winegrowers using the tested seed mixtures.
Besides the jobs created at the beneficiaries' institutions, by helping adapt viticulture to climate change the project helps secure around 1 000 jobs in the Saale-Unstrut region directly/indirectly related to vineyards and wine production. The seed mixtures applied support honey production, and the project contributed to an enhanced range of ecological regional products.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).