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Leaving a legacy for birds
John Faure, winefarmer of the Vergenoegd Wine Estate shows off his flock of geese. The love for ducks is what led Faure to the pilot project launched to create habitats for waterbirds. Photos: carmen jacobs

Vergenoegd Wine Estate has proven that when winemaking and conservation join forces, the results can be groundbreaking.

In launching the Vergenoegd Waterbird Habitat Project, the estate has become a pioneer in the field of conservation trends targeting waterbirds.

The project, launched on Wednesday 10 June, was run in conjunction with the celebration of World Environment Week from Wednesday 3 to Wednesday 10 June.

At the launch, the excitement and adoration among partners from various conservation bodies was evident. A feel-good atmosphere among attendees was tangible during the wetlands walkabout.

Wine farmer John Faure said the idea for the project originated after he started his flock of Indian Runner ducks. “I said we need ducks to eat the snails in the vineyard,” he said.

The involvement with the ducks sparked his interest in waterbirds and finding ways to be able to attract more birds, especially indigenous waterbirds. Faure said: “It started with how we attract more birds; it has grown into the wetlands and conservation angle, but for us it was more about what we on a typical farm can do to promote birdlife.”

Thus the Vergenoegd Waterbird Habitat Project was born.

The project entails changing or rehabilitating farm dams on farms to make it a suitable habitat for waterbirds. This is achieved by creating the closest replica to a natural wetland. On the Vergenoegd farm, the conservation experts from NCC constructed floatable water islands. The water islands are used to house the indigenous plants on the dams.

At the launch, replicas of floating islands were on display.

Dale Wright, regional conservation manager of Birdlife South Africa, said about the Vergenoegd Water Habitat programme: “Any kind of small island we can create is a bonus for biodiversity.”

According to Nannie de Villiers Nieuwoudt, marketing and exports manager at Vergenoegd, the indigenous birds have already found the wine estate farm dam a favourable habitat. She said a fish eagle was recently spotted at the dam.

“He caught a fish here in the dam the other day. It’s a sign they feel at home there.” The other sighting was a secretary bird.

Andrew Purnell, business unit leader in Conservation for NCC Environmental services, said future plans include identifying other possible pilot sites.

One of these is the local Lourensford Wine Estate. Johan West, Biodiversity Manager at Lourensford said the Waterbird Habitat project is an interesting project the estate would love to become involved in. “This is a fantastic project, one that we would want to partake in, because at Lourensford we are trying really hard to improve our biodiversity.” One of these aspects involve attracting more waterbirds.

Purnell added the latter leg of the project is the water conservation aspect. This includes researching water quality improvements, water conservation priority areas as well as waterbird habitat priority areas.

For more information on the Waterbird Habitat Project, visit www.ncc-group.co.za

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