French vineyards restore stone walls to help jewelled lizards survive

A wine cooperative is working on the restoration of dry stone walls in vineyards to save Europe’s largest lizard from extinction. Large males vary in length between 55 cm and 75 cm.

Scientists say changes in agricultural and viticultural practices, particularly increased use of pesticides and the removal of grass verges, more cars and pets are responsible for the decline in the lizard.

Atmann Afanniss, General Manager of the Cascatel-des-Corbières cooperative, told The Connexion: “It all started when one of the lizards was seen in the buildings of the cave.

“We caught it and released it, but then we realized it was the same lizard the scientists warned about – its numbers were falling sharply.

“For this reason, we decided in 2018 to start a program to educate our breeders, but also the public, about the lizard and to take practical steps to save it.”

The light green lizards with bruises on the sides were often seen in the vines in the past and were popular with winemakers, so the cooperative’s efforts were met with receptive ears.

One of the practical steps that winemakers take is to leave more grass at the edge of their vineyards to encourage insects, the lizard’s main food source.

They also started a program to restore the dry stone walls that have marked various vine parcels for centuries and provided shelter for the lizards.

“In the course of our efforts there has been more and more interest and it has expanded to the point where we now have a € 20,000 program in which we create part of a ‘lizard trail’ from the cooperative.

“Hikers can hike to places where they have a chance of seeing a lizard and where information boards about the lizards explain why they are important.

“The other part provides hands-on assistance to vineyard owners with dry stone restoration, including a program where people with disabilities come and help,” Afannis said.

The Aude department pays 80% of the cost of the program, and the cooperative’s € 4,000 contribution was raised through the production of 4,000 bottles of a special “lizard wine” called Timon Lepidus (the Latin name for the lizard).

One euro of the price of 10 € flows into the program.

The wine is a 2018 IGP Vallée du Paradis and is a blend of 50% wood-aged Merlot, with Grenache and Syrah, also wood-aged, which make up most of the rest.

“It is a nice, strong wine with a mainly ripe berry fruit nose and a balanced wood that also gives clear notes of vanilla,” said Mr Afannis.

The cooperative’s wine and other wines can be purchased from the cooperative, some wine merchants or online at vin-cascastel.com.

Scientists have suggested that a healthy population of lizards is also beneficial for the vineyards as they will eat many of the insects that could otherwise damage the crops.

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