South Australian destination winery Banrock Station has always been a favourite for lovers of nature, food, and wine.

And now with many people looking to explore their own backyard, there’s never been a better time to visit, especially if you’ve never been. 

With 40,000 plus visitors each year and only 2.5 hours from Adelaide City, the Banrock Station Wine and Wetlands Centre is in the heart of the iconic Riverland Region and home to an abundance of native bird, plant, and wildlife species, as a result of man-made conservation efforts, and subsequently Banrock Station is a leading national example of conservation in Australia.

Behind the renowned wine brand is an ethos of sustainability, from wines that are produced ethically with low environmental impact, to the Wine and Wetlands Centre that aims to create awareness and interest in the environment.

Boasting unique experiences like Wetlands tours, picnics, birdwatching (including the nationally vulnerable Regent Parrot) and a restaurant situated on the edge of The Wetlands, Banrock Station were recently awarded the Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices trophy at the 2022 Great Wine Capitals Best of Wine Tourism.

The wetlands also face their challenges, like sometimes need to be dry, as Tim Field, Wetlands Manager of Banrock Station explains.

“The Banrock Wetlands historically had a variable water level that included dry periods. The installation of locks and weirs has meant that water levels are now a constant height which has a negative impact on ephemeral wetlands,” he says. “If kept permanently wet, the large gums will start to struggle and ultimately will drown. Fluctuating the water levels also drives breeding events for native fish, frogs and birds as well as enabling different plants to grow as water comes and goes across the floodplain. Drying allows us to remove the introduced carp from the wetlands and allows us to consolidate the wetland bed and gives the soil a chance to breath. Naturally the length of dry periods would have been variable and dependant on rainfall in the catchment and because of this, we manage the wetlands using an adaptive mindset that takes into account environmental conditions. The wetland today serves as a refuge, food resource and breeding ground for an array of species, many of which would not be here if the wetlands were permanently wet.”

Some of the biggest problems facing the environment in South Australia and specifically The Riverland is access to water, invasive species, according to Tim.

“One of the greatest environmental challenges in the Riverland is the access and delivery of water the all of the floodplains in the South Australian stretch of the Murray River. Not all wetlands or floodplains are as fortunate as Banrock Station with many going years, even decades waiting for their next drink. Thankfully there are a growing number of partnerships with both state and federal departments to find ways to help sustainably mange these vast areas. The lack of water can contribute to widespread tree death, salinity issues and loss of biodiversity. Aside from water management, historic habitat fragmentation remains a challenge for many animals that prefer to navigate through the landscape through isolated patches of remnant vegetation. Large scale rehabilitation programs such us our partnership with Landcare are great ways to help restore our fragile landscapes,” Tim says.

“The Riverland has a problem with invasive species that don’t fit or balance with the naturally occurring ecosystem, this includes five species of invasive fish including European Carp, which are a problem across the country, and mammal species such as the Feral cat, Red fox, European hare, European rabbit and the House mouse. Supporting a stable ecosystem is significant to ensure the continuation of life and growth in the wetlands. This issue is amplified by a loss of natural land and habitat to farming and deforestation, making conservation and rewilding of native lands like the Banrock Station Wetlands increasingly important for the country as a whole.”

But despite the challenges, Tim says the team has had some big achievements since establishing the Banrock Station Wetlands.

“Banrock Station Wetlands was designated as a Ramsar site in 2002, in acknowledgement of our work in this space and the ecological value of the site. In the same year, the site won the Ramsar wetland conservation award which recognised the conservation efforts and accomplishments in improving the site prior to Ramsar listing,” he says. “The recovery and protection of threatened species has been a major focal point in sustaining and preserving species diversity. Notably, the reintroduction and establishment of the critically endangered Spiny Daisy in 2014 has been a great success story for the site. Aspects of the program have now been included in national guidelines for the translocation and preservation of threatened flora. The Regent parrot and Southern Bell frog are two of the threatened animal species that have been recovering and successfully breeding within the wetlands. These species have benefited from the implementation of a return to natural wetting and drying cycles along with a range of other birds and frog species. Our restoration efforts have in part contributed to the ongoing increases in biodiversity with more than 300 species of plants and almost 200 species of birds observed on the site. Bird and plant diversity at Banrock Station has increased by more than 50% since 2012 alongside our adaptive wetland management program.”

At Banrock Station, two people can experience a 90-minute Wetlands tour including morning tea before returning to the Wine and Wetlands Centre for a tasting of the sustainably grown and crafted Banrock Station wine range, and you can also take self-guided and access friendly tours.

Tim also has some recommendations for those visiting the Riverland this holiday season.

“If you’re in the Riverland region, you absolutely have to visit Banrock Station and explore The Wetlands, a haven for native plants, animals and bird life. Stretching for eight kilometres through the approximately 1300-acre wetlands, the boardwalk is a great way to experience the wildlife up close,” he says.

“All of our walks provide guests with the chance to see and hear some of our bird life, including the threatened regent parrot. The walks range from two to eight kilometres and pass through our wetland, floodplain, woodlands and Mallee habitats. Interpretative rammed earth pillar made from local sands are located around the trails with information about the sites cultural and environmental history as well as details that cover the rehabilitation projects that we undertake at Banrock Station as part of our landscape recovery program.”

Visit Banrock’s website for more details.