Sark’s economy and Sark’s ecology need to retain diversity

November 16th, 2012 by Dr Richard Axton

There is increasing hostility in Sark towards vine planting by Sark Estate Management.

Many share the view that larger areas of vines will not be beneficial for Sark, but harmful in many ways.

A field of recently planted vines in Sark (click image to expand - image courtesy of Rosie Guille)

Personally, I welcomed the bold initiative to plant vines on Sark’s under-used and marginal land.

But the history of outdoor vines in the Channel Islands is not auspicious and the results so far suggest that success is far from assured.

The weather in 2012 has been particularly miserable so the jury is still out.

Yet in October 2012 vine planting resumed on an increased scale.

My concern is for Sark’s landscape.

Sark’s pattern of small, banked fields, dates from 1565 and is almost unique in western Europe in its historical integrity.

Art for the Love of Sark - detail from 'Farming on top of a rock' by Carry Akroyd (watercolour and ink) (click image to expand - ©Carry Akroyd)

The compact variety of grazing, arable, woods and côtil gives the land its special character, delighting visitors from all over the world (relatively few visitors go to Sark’s beaches).

This landscape mix is enriched by vineyards and by orchards – but not if large tracts of land are subject to vine-planting and the resulting mechanical monotony.

A recently planted vineyard in Sark (click image to expand - image courtesy of Rosie Guille)

Few walkers go to France for the scenic charm of the vineyards.

Bird-watchers and wildflower enthusiasts have continued to holiday in Sark – but their cries of dismay are growing louder.

Modern viniculture is hostile to wildflowers, butterflies, insects and birds.

At an Inter-Island Conference on Conservation held in Alderney in October 2012 a map of current land use in Sark was shown to thirty or so land managers and biologists. Not one thought vineyards in Sark were good for biodiversity; they thought the opposite.

Constant rotovation of the soil removes ground cover between rows.

Regular dusting with Bordeaux Mixture to prevent mildew and other fungi is harmful to bees and other insects, to earthworms and, in the long term, also to people’s health.

On a windy day the powder can travel 50 yards from the dusting machine. (I have seen a blowing cloud of Bordeaux Mixture envelop a small flock of birds).

A tractor sprays vines in Sark (click image to expand - image courtesy of Maggie Herdman)

Bordeaux Mix is classed as ‘organic’, nevertheless copper residues build up in the soil and water.

The editor of Sark Newsletter has recently belittled the ‘buzz-word’ biodiversity but the fact is, the variety of living forms is the best index of Sark’s true health.

Apple orchards thrive in Sark; they are good for birds and bees, compatible with chickens and ducks, sheep, even pigs.

Lavender thrives and adorns the landscape, and could spawn cottage industries.

Other commercial plants could be grown for essential oils, or seeds – sunflower and linseed flax (traditional in Sark in the Middle Ages) are both attractive in landscape.

Hops grow wild in Sark; hop fields and barley could fuel beer brewing. Personally, I support micro-brewing.

I understand Sark Estate Management plans have been shelved on account of when a particular building proposal was rejected.

I hope they will revive the project and emphasize its potential benefits to Sark (from growing and brewing to saving on transport and empties).

Sark’s economy, like its landscape, needs diversity.

On our small island small is beautiful and bigger is not necessarily better.


1 Response to “Sark’s economy and Sark’s ecology need to retain diversity”

  1. Miles Newman

    You probably feel it’s your island, but it’s on our planet. Please do your very best to look after Sark and its biodiversity.

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