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Put a cork in it!

Conservationists warn of a 'cork crash' by 2015 - wine-buyers are urged to avoid plastic stoppers. A new independent report commissioned by the RSPB warns that if the use of plastic wine stoppers continues to increase at the current rate, the cork industry could 'crash' in less than 15 years, resulting in the disappearance of one of Europe's most valuable wildlife habitats. Wine drinkers throughout Europe could make a real difference to conservation just by insisting on cork stoppers!

British Wine Drinkers Could Save Rare Birds!RSPB news releaseConservationists warn of 'cork crash' by 2015 - wine-buyers are urged to avoid plastic stoppers.A new independent report commissioned by the RSPB warns that if the use of plastic wine stoppers continues to increase at the current rate, the cork industry could 'crash' in less than 15 years, resulting in the disappearance of one of Europe's most valuable wildlife habitats. The RSPB's Cork Report shows that the threat to wildlife from plastic stoppers is far greater than previously thought. In only five years plastic has grabbed an estimated 5-7 per cent of the ?500-800 million global bottle-stopper market - far higher than the industry's own estimate of only one per cent.At current growth rates, plastic stoppers are likely to have at least a 15 per cent share of the global market by 2015. Once this threshold is reached the surplus of cork supply will be sufficient to trigger price falls of up to a quarter, resulting in cork farmers being forced out of business or having to grow less environmentally-friendly crops, such as eucalyptus. Such a crash in the cork market will be disastrous for the wild birds which depend on the cork forests, and for the 80,000 people directly involved in cork production.Many species of bird rely heavily on healthy cork forest for food and nesting sites. Without a viable cork industry, species such as Booted eagle, black kite and turtle dove could disappear from large areas of Spain and Portugal, along with many other already threatened animals and plants.Britain is the world's largest importer of wines and has 15-20 per cent of its wine bottles stopped with plastic 'corks' - three times the global figure. This is largely due to the influence of supermarkets and off-licence chains, which are demanding plastic stoppers from wine suppliers, claiming that cork can cause some wines to taste 'musty'. However, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer have taken steps in the right direction by labelling their own-brand wines with the type of stopper used, so that consumers can make an informed choice.Hannah Bartram, RSPB agriculture policy officer, said: "It is an outrage that plastic stoppers are replacing natural cork - a truly sustainable product which benefits people and wildlife. We owe it to future generations to fight this shortsightedness. The Iberian cork forests have taken thousands of years to develop but it will take only a few years for them to disappear. We will continue to lobby retailers on this issue, but in the meantime, we urge anyone that cares about wildlife to complain to the retailer if they find a plastic stopper in their wine bottles this Christmas."Eduardo Goncalves, environmental researcher and author of the report, added: "Britain's supermarkets are the most important single force in the global wine market. The future of the cork oak forests is now in their hands. The evidence disproves their arguments about cork ?taint? and plastic?s technical superiority. The switch from a natural product to a synthetic one makes the retailers' 'green' claims look rather shabby, particularly when many consumers clearly prefer real cork. The stores should listen to their customers - and help safeguard a unique wildlife-rich farming system."RSPB Press Release ends.A copy of the full report is available online as a PDF file. Photographs are available in digital or traditional format from RSPB Images. Please contact Cath Rivett on 0207 871 7951.1. A summary of 'The Cork Report: a study on the economics of cork' is available from the RSPB press office. It will also be attached to the news release on the RSPB website at www.rspb.org.uk/news2. Wine corks are made from the bark of the cork oak, Quercus suber. The outer bark is removed every 9-10 years without harm to the tree.3. Over half of the world's cork forests are in Portugal and Spain, covering an area of 1.2 million hectares.4. As well as conserving biodiversity, the montados and dehesas perform a highly valuable task of preventing erosion of the area's thin soils as a result of rain and wind, regulating groundwater supplies, creating soil nutrients, and controlling extreme temperatures. The bark of the cork tree also reduces the risk of fire, by slowing and cooling burning scrub and forest areas, and protects the tree's own inner bark from the heat and flames.5. Approximately 13 billion wine and champagne corks are produced every year. Natural wine corks, despite accounting for less than 30 per cent of actual weight of cork production, account consistently for approximately 70 per cent of the value of all cork products and exports.6. In addition to at least 40,000 farming families, there are an additional 40,000 extractors and processors of cork in the Iberian Peninsula who rely economically on cork, as do their often extended families.7. The large supermarkets and off-licence chains currently account for about 84 per cent of take-home wine sales in the UK.8. The area of Iberian cork forests is increasing to meet the expected growth in demand for cork, but it takes at least 40 years before a cork oak produces quality cork for wine stoppers. This makes it difficult for the industry to respond to changes in demand quickly, and is one of the factors that makes the cork industry vulnerable to competition from plastic stoppers.9. Because there is little data on the incidence of TCA (the chemical compound which causes 'taint') in cork, many different 'off' flavours (such as that caused by oxidisation) may be blamed on cork.10. The RSPB is Europe's largest wildlife conservation charity, with over one million members and more than 160 nature reserves throughout the UK. The RSPB is the UK partner of BirdLife International, a partnership of wildlife conservation organisations around the World, which includes SPEA (Portugal) and SEO (Spain).Alasdair Bright, RSPB Headquarters, Sandy. Press Office. Tel: 01767 680551.A Response from Tesco:Thanks for your e-mail. Natural cork has been associated with pronounced taint in wine. Theestimates for the number of bottles affected varies between 0.5% and 8%. This represents a large amount of customer dissatisfaction. The problem of the taint is not detectable until the wine bottle is opened. Tesco is in discussions with the Wine & Spirit Association to work with other retailersto investigate the extent of the problem. We do use alternative closures such as plastic corks and screw caps in an effort to prevent this unsatisfactory taint appearing in the wine.While we are aware of the concerns about cork forests, there is no evidence to show that cork forest plantings are decreasing as a result of increased use of alternative closures for wine. The evidence we have seen on forest planting suggests that it is increasing.Labelling our wines with the closure type is an option we are currently investigating. We are keeping up to date with new developments within the cork industry to eradicate the causes of cork tainted wine. We are looking for the best closure that our customers are happy with and that protects the wine at the right price.When replying to this email please attach your original email to ensure aspeedy and accurate response. Please visit our web site at http://www.tesco.comThe response from Tesco's was in response to an e-mail from Graham Mee who posted all the above on ukbn.

4th July 2014