Sunday, November 30, 2008

Solve one problem, another crops up!

Most wine bottles these days have screw caps instead of the the corks. But this is having an adverse effect on the environment too. The destruction of the cork oak forests which are home to some rare and beautiful animals in Europe.

The cork oak can have its bark stripped off every nine years. Each stripping yields enough cork for 4000 bottles. However of late, to avoid the problem of wine being 'corked' wine producers have started switching to screw caps and synthetic corks. As a result, farmers who harvested cork are finding themselves with no income. So they are uprooting the cork oaks and trying to replant with more economically viable trees. There is one problem though ... it is not easy to replant on land where cork oaks stand. It usually just turns to desert.

Cork oak forests, which cover 2.7 million of hectares worldwide and support rare species such as Iberian lynx, black storks and booted eagles, are already disappearing in some areas. Faced with falling demand for cork stoppers, which make up 70 per cent of the income from cork harvests, farmers are ripping up trees that have been on their land for hundreds of years in an attempt to grow alternative crops, such as eucalyptus.

The land that cork oaks grow on, however, is poor quality and when the trees are removed, the land often turns into desert. In the Algarve, Portugal, cork forests have declined by 28 per cent in the past 10 years.

A study by conservation charity The World Wildlife Fund estimated that up to three quarters of the Mediterranean cork forests could be lost within 10 years if the trend for plastic stoppers and screw tops continues, and a new BBC Natural World documentary, will next month highlight the threats facing the forests and warn they could vanish completely unless wine makers switch back to using real corks.


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