Uitkyk wine estate outside Stellenbosch has launched a project to increase the owl population on the farm by creating suitable habitats for these birds of prey. Uitkyk, a Biodiversity & Wine Initiative champion, was one of the first in the Winelands to appreciate the value of owls in rodent control when several years ago it erected “owl posts” in the vineyards to facilitate hunting.
Rudi Buys, viticulturist and general manager of Uitkyk, said owl specialist Lianda Naude had found evidence on the farm of both barn owls and spotted eagle owls, with Cape eagle owls higher in the mountainous areas of the Greater Simonsberg Conservancy on which the farm borders. She said that to find more than one species of owl was already proof of the health of the eco-system on the farm.
Uitkyk covers almost 600ha with over 300ha set aside for conservation. The vineyards are located on the higher slopes which are dissected by four deep gorges that create natural corridors between them. These corridors enable small game and predators to move freely across the property.
Buys said: “Lianda believes we can also attract African grass owls and the indigenous marsh owl to the farm if we are able to create a suitable habitat. On Uitkyk we have quite a large wetland area. Since 2008 we have been clearing 8ha to 10ha of land a year of alien vegetation and we are treating the clearing of the marshland as a priority in the programme for the coming year.
Once the alien vegetation has been removed and the indigenous grasses have re-established themselves, we will not only have improved the water flow in the wetland but will also have created an ideal habitat for these owl species that prefer to hunt in the long grass.
Our owl project is part of a larger programme to re-establish a balance between predator and prey on the farm. In addition to guinea fowl, we also have caracal that help keep the number of duiker and grysbok in check. These small antelopes find the young vine shoots irresistible and cause considerable damage in the vineyards in the spring.
Although it is wonderful to have so many wild things living on the farm, we try to use nature in a way that will as far as possible reduce the need for chemical interventions to protect our crops. It is a matter of working with nature and not against it, and that in itself gives one massive satisfaction.”