Future of cork oak forests still in the balance

Posted: 2 August 2006

Earlier this year WWF warned that three quarters of the Western Mediterranean's cork oak forests could be lost within 10 years, threatening an economic and environmental crisis, unless the industry took action to support the cork stoppers market. But still no action has been taken.

On the eve of the International Wines and Spirits Fair in London in May WWF warned that up to two million hectares of cork oak forests - around half the size of Switzerland1 - are at risk of desertification and forest fires due to a predicted decline in the cork stoppers market.

The report Cork Screwed? said that the future survival of the cork forests strongly depends upon the market for cork wine closures. However the trend away from cork stoppers could lead, in the worst case scenario, to synthetic and screw tops holding 95 per cent of the closure market by 2015. This would result in the loss of 62,500 jobs in the cork-producing regions. Endangered species such as the Iberian Lynx, Barbary Deer and the Imperial Iberian Eagle would be further put at risk of extinction.

Rebecca May, forests campaigner at WWF, said:"The cork oak forests could face an economic and environmental crisis unless we take action to secure their future now. It is vital that the wine and cork industries maintain the market for cork stoppers and in turn, help ensure the survival of the cork oak forests. Unfortunately we have seen little fresh action yet to do this"

Cork stoppers, which are biodegradable and can be recycled into other products, represent almost 70 per cent of the total cork market value. Every year over 15 billion cork stoppers are produced and sold to the wine industry. The cork landscapes provide a vital source of income for more than 100,000 people in the cork-producing countries of Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France.

Cork harvesting is an environmentally friendly process during which not a single tree is cut down. Synthetic and screw top closures are more harmful to the environment because they use more energy in production and are oil-based products.

WWF is calling on the cork industry to continue to invest in the quality of cork stoppers and the wine industry to make cork the preferred closure option. Better management practices in cork oak landscapes also need to be coupled with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation - the highest environmental certification system.

Nora Berrahmouni, co-ordinator of WWF Cork Oak Landscapes Programme, added: "A whole landscape, which has environmental as well as economic importance for the Western Mediterranean is at risk. We need to take action now so we don't lose this unique landscape forever."

Source: WWF

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