The future of Breaky Bottom Vineyard is being threatened by a game shoot set up on neighbouring land, it was claimed this week.
Thousands of hungry pheasants are devouring the grape harvest, say the award-winning Rodmell vineyard’s owners.
“The pheasants are woodland birds and seek shelter from the open country,” said a spokesperson. “They come down to the vineyard and think that it is a small wood.
“Once the grapes are ripe they eat huge quantities. They must also affect the ecological balance of the environment within this part of the South Downs National Park.”
The claim has been denied by Iford Downs Shoot, which operates on land owned by a local farmer.
Breaky Bottom said the shoot began to release pheasants and partridges on land belonging to Iford Farm in 2010 without any prior consultation with the owners of the vineyard. It said: “Pheasants find the open downland hostile, as they need more cover. The birds travel the short distance from the pens to the vineyard where the vines provide some shelter but also plenty of grapes to eat.”
Owner Peter Hall said: “Breaky Bottom is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, an important landmark. Since 2010 the impact of releasing so many pheasants has had a devastating effect on the business from damage to the grape crop.
“South Downs National Park policy is to support appropriate diversification but surely not at the expense of damaging existing successful enterprises.”
Breaky Bottom said: “Iford Downs Shoot and /or Iford Farm did not apply for a Change of Use on the agricultural land that they use for rearing the gamebirds at Iford Farm or for the land where they release them. Lewes District Council decided that a retrospective application was necessary for the change from Agricultural to Recreational.”
A retrospective planning application for change of use of the land from agriculture to a mixed use of agriculture and game rearing had been lodged by Iford Farms Ltd last month.
It was shown as withdrawn on the South Downs National Park’s planning website this week, but it is understood will be resubmitted.
The pheasants and partridges are reared on Iford Downs Shoot’s own nearby game farm. Craig Dennis leases the ground and said: “I would deny that the birds are devastating the grape crop. We’re just trying to make a living.”