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Friday, 6 December, 2002, 13:10 GMT
Cork replacements threaten wildlife
Wine bottles
More than 17 billion cork stoppers are made each year

The World Wildlife Fund is warning that many parts of the Mediterranean are facing an environmental crisis as wine makers stop using traditional cork stoppers for their wine bottles, and have begun to use plastic and screw-top alternatives instead.

The wildlife organisation says that harvesting cork does not cause any damage to the forests, but if demand for cork goes down, it could threaten local wildlife.

Workers collecting cork
Local people have to find alternative income
More than 17 billion cork stoppers are made for the wine industry each year - but not a single tree gets harmed in the process.

Contrary to popular belief, harvesting cork is 100% environmentally friendly, leaving the forest and its wildlife intact.

Slump in demand

But recently, wine growers have begun to opt for synthetic plastic and screw top stoppers for their bottles, meaning demand for cork has slumped.

It has prompted local people either to leave the countryside, or, in a bid to find alternative incomes, to cut down the forests and plant more profitable crops.

Many of these new plants however take too many nutrients from the soil, causing widespread ecological damage.

The WWF warns that if the cork forests of the Mediterranean are not properly managed, they will eventually become deserts.

That would risk the survival of local wildlife, particularly the Iberian lynx, whose numbers have already dwindled to just 150.

The wildlife organisation fears that more than 30% of the wine bottle market will soon be using plastic seals. If this does happen, it says, then the forests of the Mediterranean will simply disappear.

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The BBC's Emma Jane Kirby
"The people have begun to desert the countryside"
See also:

22 Dec 00 | Science/Nature
24 Jul 02 | Rob on the road
13 Dec 00 | UK
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