Wine industry can help conserve cork forests

Posted by Laura Grant on November 10, 2008
Posted in Conservation, Lifestyle

Photo: A cork oak tree in the mountains near Alcala de los Gazules, Andalucia. Spain
© WWF-Canon / Edward PARKER – WWF

The growing use of plastic and metal substitutes for cork in the wine industry is threatening the Mediterranean’s cork oak forests, says the WWF.

Cork comes from ancient Mediterranean forests. It is a totally natural, renewable and recyclable product. No trees are cut to harvest the cork, instead bark of cork oak trees are stripped every 9-12 years. This is one of the most environmental friendly harvesting processes in the world, the environmental group says.

The cork used in wine bottles and its role in sustainable forestry was an issue raised by the environmental organisation at the general assembly of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) held in Cape Town last week.

The WWF highlighted the vital role the wine industry plays in maintaining the economic value of cork and thus conserving the cork forests. Cork for wine bottle stoppers accounts for almost 70 percent of the total value of the cork market.

“cork forests are home and a source of income to thousands of people and support one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the planet. Decreasing demand from the wine industry for cork stoppers would force entire communities to leave, resulting in more forest fires, desertification and the permanent loss of 2.7 million hectares of forest,” the organisation says.

In its efforts to preserve cork oak landscapes, the WWF is using FSC certification as a market-based tool to drive best management practices on the ground while ensuring sustainable cork markets.

Wine bottles sealed with FSC cork are already available on the market. Three wine producers/ bottlers have certified their chain of custody and seal their wine bottles with FSC cork stoppers (South Africa, Oregon, and Spain). And wine retailers such as Woolworths in South Africa are showing a growing interest in FSC cork, says the WWF-SA.

The FSC is an independent, non profit organisation whose certification system helps consumers make more informed choices when buying timber products. The FSC label is an indication that a product comes from a sustainably managed forest. Although there appears to be disagreement over its certification of “monoculture plantations”.

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