Barkan Wineries
Fences going up around the Barkan Wineries in the Arazim Valley. Photo by Dov Greenblat / SPNI
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The fencing of vineyards in the Judean Hills is creating death traps for wild animals, leading nature and animal rights groups to consider calling for a consumer boycott of the wineries behind the practice.

According to data collected by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Let the Animals Live, Barkan Wineries have put up 16 kilometers of fencing in the Arazim Valley near Jerusalem and on the ridges west of the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion.

The purpose of the fencing is to prevent gazelles from eating the plants.

"This area is an important ecological corridor through which animals, including gazelles, can move," Amir Balaban, of the SPNI, says. "The corridor has already narrowed due to the building of the separation fence to its north and the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway to its south," he added.

In many cases the animals are injured when they run into the fencing. In other cases, when gazelles become entangled in the fences, they are easy prey for predators like hyenas, jackals and feral dogs.

While no injuries have been documented by the new fences, according to the SPNI, fences put up some years ago injured a number of gazelles, and one trapped gazelle was killed by a predator.

Barkan has to change its policies on fencing, the SPNI's deputy director general, Moshe Pakman, said yesterday, as "part of the company's corporate responsibility."

Pakman said the SPNI had already approached Barkan Wineries on the matter and if the response it seeks is not forthcoming, it would approach Heineken, one of the owners of Tempo, which is Barkan's major shareholder.

"If we don't make the change through dialogue, we will call on consumers not to buy their products because of the company's responsibility for harming nature," Yonatan Spiegal, legal adviser to Let the Animals Live, said.

The SPNI said fencing was not the only way to prevent gazelles from damaging plants; they could be covered with plastic sleeves in their early stages of growth or other vegetation could be planted that the gazelles would eat instead of the vines.

Barkan Wineries responded: "This land has belonged to the moshavim for 60 years and Barkan Wineries are only the contractors that plant the vines."

Barkan also said all relevant bodies had been consulted before the vines were planted on the Beit Nekofa land, including the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Barkan said it was later decided jointly with the Agriculture Ministry to plant experimental plots without fencing. "When the experiment is concluded, the costs will be calculated and if the vineyard is eaten by gazelles, the Agriculture Ministry and other bodies involved in the experiment will pay for the damage and the area will be replanted and fenced."