Sian Liwicki, Wild Oxfordshire Trustee and owner of Bothy Vineyard
When my husband and I bought the oldest vineyard in Oxfordshire, twenty years ago, our lives radically changed. We went from sedate scientific administration to a life crammed full of young children, tractors, spraying, industrial scale pruning, work parties, layers upon layers of governmental regulation, harvests, wine-making and building a drinks business onto our modest 11 acres of land.
We became “landowners” overnight as well as a small cog in the complex world of food production; the two key sectors reflecting mankind’s attitude to, and relationship with the planet. In the hustle and bustle of the early years, I did not know this would provide me with insight that would turn into a superpower - albeit not a widely admired superpower amongst vineyard owners. Let me explain...Prior to this journey, I had spent 10 years working and volunteering for Wild Oxfordshire. I had the pleasure of mixing and becoming friends with a wide circle of passionate conservationists, researchers, professional environmental officers and locals, committed to increasing the wildlife value of their villages or in urban pockets. As we got to grips with our new wine-centric life, we found time to think about our relationship with the land. Frilford, with its free-draining sandy and nutrient-poor soils happens to also be one of the most biodiverse spots in the county. The burden of responsibility dawned on us, but so did my superpower. I was able to place the importance of my land for wildlife in a county-wide context. This came through understanding the strategic work that Wild Oxfordshire leads, in partnership with over 50 different organisations. I was also able to ask the advice of experts, keen to share their passion about species and habitats. Over the years, they came to survey our vineyard and feed data back to others keen to monitor how wildlife was faring in Oxfordshire. Gradually we built up our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and enhance the diversity of habitats on our site. The rewards, beyond producing wine, were bountiful.It is only now that the English wine industry has begun to embrace biodiversity in its wider sustainability plan. Biodiversity has been feared, it was considered “too difficult”, and for food production, just an irrelevance. As Jake Fiennes has said, every landowner whilst seeking the advice of agronomists, should also reach out to ecologists – it is the least we can do to return our debt to the land. And I realise that my superpower, being unafraid to reach out to the local nature set for help, is definitely within reach of many. Sian Liwicki, Bothy Vineyard (now grubbed up and replaced with a wildflower meadow ) and trustee of Wild Oxfordshire.