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Could climate change help uncork Norfolk's wine-making potential?

PUBLISHED: 11:25 20 November 2019 | UPDATED: 11:25 20 November 2019

A UEA scientist says climate change could create opportunities for more vineyards in East Anglia, like this one at Flint Vineyard in Earsham, near Bungay. Picture: Chris Hill

A UEA scientist says climate change could create opportunities for more vineyards in East Anglia, like this one at Flint Vineyard in Earsham, near Bungay. Picture: Chris Hill

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Farmers could switch from growing grain to grapes as a warming environment creates opportunities to make East Anglia a major wine production region, according to a climate change scientist.

Prof Andrew Lovett, of the UEA's school of environmental sciences. Picture: Denise BradleyProf Andrew Lovett, of the UEA's school of environmental sciences. Picture: Denise Bradley

"Norfolk and Suffolk are probably two of the best places in England for vineyards," said Prof Andrew Lovett, of the University of East Anglia's School of Environmental Sciences.

Speaking at the opening meeting of Stalham Farmers' Club's 178th season, he said that climate change was already having a marked impact on the agricultural landscape.

With more than 30 years' detailed weather data drawn from the two counties since 1961, clear trends had emerged, said Prof Lovett.

While agriculture was a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, farmers have the ability to respond and make a major contribution to improve the environment, he said.

During a briefing on "Challenges and opportunities of a changing climate for Norfolk agriculture," he suggested that a dramatic improvement in food productivity could make a real difference.

At the same time, farmers could change their systems, he argued. For example, widespread use of cover crops after harvest and boosting organic levels in soils could lock up carbon and benefit the environment.

Decades of weather data in Norfolk and Suffolk indicated the significant extent of change, said Prof Lovett, and it is now possible to chart these impacts in specific areas of 5sq km by using GIS (geographical information systems).

The temperature data was clear - higher average summer and warmer winter temperatures, decreasing summer rainfall and more intensive rainfall in winter, he said. With emissions of greenhouse gases still increasing, and particularly from agriculture, there had to be major changes to reduce levels of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane, he warned.

One opportunity has been identified by a former colleague, Dr Alistair Nesbitt, who had studied at the UEA. He had set up a business, Vinescapes, which was working with farmers and landowners to established vineyards.

Norfolk and Suffolk were among the brightest prospects for vines, added Prof Lovett.

- The meeting also heard that Stalham Farmers' Club members raised £325 for the East Anglian Air Ambulance following a successful visit to the charity's headquarters last month.

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