First, some buzzwords to get you into the swing of this biodiversity malarkey:
Agroecology - agricultural practices that take the ecology into account.
Farmscale - an individual whole farm management approach.
Landscape scale - a management approach that is scaled up to focus on an entire area, not just individual farms. Sometimes referred to as 'regional scale'. It necessarily involves many more stakeholders, both private and public.
Sustainable agriculture - an approach to agricultural practices that takes into account economic, environmental and social aspects.
Conservation Biological Control - the use of landscape scale management practices to control pests and diseases. Naturally occurring indigenous predators (as opposed to introduced native or exotic predators) are provided with food sources and shelter throughout the year to ensure their numbers are maintained and they are available for pest control in an effective and timely manner.
Ecological Compensation Area - often abbreviated to ECA. Uncultivated areas such as hedges, crop margins and stone walls. These are key to Conservation Biological Control techniques.
Ecosystem services - elements of the environmental matrix such as decomposition, nutrient cycles, soil formation, water, climate and aesthetics.
Agroecosystem - an agricultural environment which incorporates a natural community of plants and animals.
And finally, the biggest buzzword of them all:
Biodiversity - the most widely accepted definition today comes from the 1992 Convention for Biological Diversity and is 'the variability among living organisms...and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.' It is generally accepted that the higher the level of biodiversity and the more complex the inter-reactions between species and their environment, the more stable and sustainable the ecological system is. It is further generally accepted that high biodiversity and sustainability is a Good Thing.
In 2000, vineyards covered 3% of French farmland, but soaked up 20% of the pesticides used in agriculture here. ('Pesticides' is used in the current sense of the word, meaning herbicides, insecticides and various other biocides.) Ten years later, the situation regarding pesticide use was changing very rapidly, and it was the Loire vineyards leading the way. Nowadays, sustainable agricultural practices are considered very normal, even the common sense no-brainer approach, although even today, not all vineyards have taken up the challenge and you still see 'nuked' bare-earth parcels of vines dotted about.
The use of acaricides (miteicides) has been widely replaced by the biological control of using predatory mites. Green cover in vineyards is now common, used to reduce the vigour of the vines and to act as a sponge, soaking up excess moisture.
To a large extent the project has an economic basis. The growers were seeing the cost of pesticides spiralling ever upward, and they were conscious that the use or otherwise of pesticides can alter the consumer's perception of the appellation. Being pesticide free can be used as a marketing tool.
shelter to beneficial insects in winter when the vines are exposed.
Source: Protection des Paysages Viticoles, a paper by G. Pain et al, 2010, Mission Val de Loire.