When you open a bottle of wine these days you may discover bottles with plastic stoppers. WWF, the Conservation Organization, asks wine consumers to help the environment by choosing and asking for wine bottles with natural cork stoppers.
The use of synthetic and screw top stoppers is on the rise. Currently it's estimated they make up about 8 percent of the stoppers manufactured every year. This figure could rise to more than 30 percent in the coming years. Letting this trend continue could lead to the disappearance of an entire economy and ecosystems that have coexisted for at least a thousand years in the Mediterranean, which supply more than 99 percent of the world's cork. More than 15 billion cork stoppers are made every year to supply the international wine market, and over 80,000 people depend on the cork industry in Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, France and Tunisia, the main cork producing countries in the world. You can support the cork economy by making sure the wine you buy has natural cork stoppers.
“Cork extraction is one of the most environmentally-friendly harvesting processes in the world - not a single tree is cut down to get the cork. This tradition can survive, as long as demand for cork stays high, if not, the cork forests will disappear — and with them, a unique cultural and natural heritage”, said Pedro Regato, WWF Mediterranean Head of Forest unit.
Local communities who fear a decrease in their incomes try to find alternative sources of revenue and take advantage of environmentally damaging EU subsidies. Already, large tracts of land that were once Mediterranean cork forest are now eucalyptus and pine plantations, which unlike cork oak trees that are partially fire-resistant, are major sources of fuel for fires.
Cork oak forests support more than just the people directly involved in the cork industry. Livestock graze under the cork trees. People make honey from beehives in the forests, acorns are used for animal feed, and fruits and berries that grow in the understorey go into other local produce. Cork forests are one of the best example of a sustainable agro-forestry system, where people use the natural resources around them while preserving the ecosystem’s high environmental values.
The cork forests are home to a rich variety of wildlife, including endangered species such as the Barbary deer (Cervus elaphus barbarus) in Tunisia, the Iberian imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) and the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) in Spain and Portugal. The Iberian lynx, the world's most endangered big cat, is on the brink of extinction, say experts. The total confirmed population is estimated at less than 200. It is feared the species could disappear within the next few years, making it the first big cat extinction since prehistoric times.
“The loss of the cork oak forests would be a catastrophe for the region's economy and ecosystems, and could spell dire consequences for Europe as a whole, leading desertification processes into northern Europe. Consumers really do have the power to make a difference by doing something very simple — choosing and demanding wine bottles with natural cork stoppers”, says Clara Landeiro of WWF’s Green Belt Against Desertification project in Portugal.