Conservation Champions | WWF South Africa

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Conservation Champions

© Tielman Roos Jr

95% of SA’s wine growing takes place in the Cape winelands. Yet, this vast area under vine is also home to two global biodiversity hotspots – the Succulent Karoo and Cape Floral Kingdom. Both these hotspots are unique habitats found nowhere else in the world!

​What is the issue?

In the early 2000s, the wine industry was growing rapidly and the vineyard footprint was expanding into highly-threatened conservation-worthy habitats. 

This spurred the start of a unique and powerful partnership between the conservation sector and the wine industry because the wine farm owners are the custodians of the land. They are the ones who can ensure that they farm in harmony with nature and ensure that the natural areas are protected so as to continue providing essential natural services. 

With a changing climate and ever increasing input costs, there is also a need to collaborate beyond farm gates to address shared risks and opportunities such as clearing river catchments of water-thirsty alien vegetation as well as preventing wildfires. 

​What is WWF doing?

WWF provides advisory support to eligible and committed wine farms as part of a land and water stewardship programme.

How do we do this?

Through a voluntary membership model, WWF works with the environmental leaders in SA’s wine industry, known as the Conservation Champions. These landowners commit to biodiversity-friendly farming practices, conserve their natural areas and continually improve their water and energy efficiencies. 

WWF supports these farms in their environmental efforts by co-developing detailed environmental management plans, setting tangible targets and helping them to prioritise actions to address their most pressing envionmental risks.

WWF's work also supports the existing wine industry environmental certification scheme and this, in turn, is jointly marketed through industry bodies. 

In exchange, the Conservation Champions can use the distinctive sugarbird and protea logo on their wine bottles so consumers can make an informed choice to support our environmental wine leaders!

Who do we work with?

As well as working closely with the nearly 40 Conservation Champions, we also engage with conservation partners, government, wine industry bodies, retailers and consumers.

How did it start?

The programme was initiated in 2004 was originally called the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI). Over the subsequent decade, the BWI team worked with over 250 landowners and cellars to set up their environmental management plans and put systems in place to meet market requirements through the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) certification scheme.
By 2015, over 90% of the South African wine industry was able to certify their wine as being environmentally friendly through the BWI and IPW partnership. With limited resources, the programme then re-structured to focus exclusively on working with and supporting the industry leaders – WWF’s Conservation Champions.

What are the big wins?

  1. This unique partnership raised the awareness of the natural biodiversity and has catalysed behaviour change towards more sustainable farming practices within the wine growing regions of South Africa. 
  2. Over 90% of SA’s wine industry has embedded environmentally responsible farming practices into their business as represented in Sustainable Wines South Africa’s integrity and sustainability label. 
  3. The SA wine industry received international recognition as leaders in the global wine sector for demonstrating the balance between nature and farming. 
  4. Although experiencing the worst drought in decades, and an ever-changing climate, many Conservation Champion farms that have implemented the sustainable farming practices – and with conservation at their core – have been able to maintain their productivity and their businesses are growing from strength to strength.    
  5. By creating the Conservation Champion logo, consumers can easily recognise and choose to support the environmental leaders with every wine purchase and when choosing to visit farms.