Promoting nature conservation while producing world quality wines

In 2007, an abandoned estate was restored in a remote area of the Natura 2000 Special Protection Area (SPA) / Site of Community Importance (SCI) Douro International e Vale do Águeda with the aim of producing high-quality wines while, at the same time, minimising ecological and landscape impacts resulting from the planting of new vineyards.

At the time not much was known about the biodiversity value of the area, so a short baseline study was carried out to identify any species of high conservation value. This revealed that the site hosted a small population of critically endangered black wheatear (Oenanthe leucura) and that other rare birds, such as the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetus), the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) and the black stork (Ciconia nigra) used the area either for nesting, shelter or feeding.

The owner of a wine estate Duorum Vinhos, S.A. decided therefore to set about reconciling the production of high-quality wines with the conservation of rare birds within this 150 ha terraced vineyard. The key objective was to enhance the biodiversity values of the vineyard whilst promoting rural development in this remote part of the country, which suffers from high levels of depopulation.

The activities carried out included: the implementation of environmentally-friendly agriculture and biological vine cultivation practices; the creation of grasslands to host natural prey populations for raptor birds; the creation of no-intervention buffer areas around nesting sites; the preservation of riparian vegetation along water courses, the planting of native woodland species and the preservation of ancient olive and almond groves, as well as maintenance of native vegetation in hedgerows and embankments.

A Black Wheater (Oenanthe leucura) Conservation Plan was also drawn and the species is regularly monitored in the most critical areas of the wine estate ever since. Production and soil management practices were adapted to suit the species needs. Apiaries were installed and operational restrictions applied in sensitive areas. The species has since returned to the area after a couple of years of absence. Encouraged by its success, the estate has dedicated its top quality wine brands to this bird. Called O.Leucura, the wines are sold out very early on every season.

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