The World Wildlife Fund has called on the wine industry to ‘choose cork’ in order to save the environment.

In a leaflet entitled ‘Cork Screwed? Environmental and economic impacts of the cork stoppers market’ the WWF argues for the preservation of the US$329m cork industry.

It predicts that by 2015, 95% of wine bottles will be closed with alternatives to cork. Annual cork production will go down from 300,000 tonnes to 19,500 tonnes.

‘There is a risk that the Western Mediterranean cork oak landscapes will face an economic crisis, an increase in poverty, an intensification of forest fires, a loss of irreplaceable biodiversity…’ the leaflet says.

27,500 industrial jobs and 35,000 forestry jobs would disappear. At present the cork industries of Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Italy, Tunisia and France maintain 2.7m ha of land and provide income sources for 100,000 people.

Cork forests also support ‘endangered species such as the Iberian lynx, the Iberian imperial eagle and the barbary deer.’

Cork, the WWF says, has a wide variety of uses, from clothes to insulation, ‘and even rocket technology’, but bottle stoppers represent 70% of the total market value.

The onus to save the cork business is laid on the wine industry. It needs to ‘demonstrate its corporate responsibility by considering the environmental and socioeconomic values of cork – by choosing cork and promoting its use’.

It also needs to seriously address the issue of cork taint – TCA – and traceability.

‘WWF believes that industries offer added value to their consumers while working for nature,’ the leaflet concludes.

Whether this will have any effect is a moot point, as more and more wine producers turn away from cork in favour of closures that offer less chance of taint.

Andrew Jefford, who has written extensively on the subject, said, ‘The industry will always take quality control as the most important issue. Producers will go for screwcap regardless of the environmental considerations if they think it is the best closure.’

He added, ‘While red wine producers are still very uncertain that screwcaps are the future, for short-term storage wines cork has already lost the battle. No amount of environmental pleading will change that.’

Written by Adam Lechmere