When you buy your next bottle of wine, ensure that it has a natural cork!
The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is the most threatened wild cat species in the world, and is native to the Iberian Peninsula. These medium-sized cats have tufted ears, dense beard-like facial hair, a bobbed tail, and long legs akin to the other species in their genus. Sadly, by the turn of the 21st century, the Iberian lynx was on the verge of extinction, as only about 100 individuals survived in two isolated subpopulations in Andalusia. The Iberian lynx is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.
The Iberian lynx is an eminently forest species and prefers heterogeneous environments of open grassland mixed with dense shrubs and forests such as holm oak and cork oak. And these sparsely populated cork forests in particular have developed into some of Europe's richest eco-systems, and a valuable sanctuary for many endangered species not only the Iberian lynx, but the black stork and imperial eagle as well.
However, due to the worldwide decline in demand for cork products (including natural wine stoppers), the majority of existing cork forests across Portugal and South Western Spain have not been sustainably managed, and are being eradicated in favour of more profitable plantations.
No trees are cut down to harvest cork. Instead the spongy bark is stripped from the trees every nine years by skilled workers using handheld axes. The bark slowly grows back and the trees frequently live to well over 200 years. The natural regeneration of the bark makes cork oak very effective in absorbing carbon dioxide, the gas blamed most for global warming. It estimates that the amount of CO2 absorbed as a result of each summer's harvest equals the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 185,000 cars.
It is claimed that synthetic plastic bottle stoppers are responsible for 10 times more CO2 than their natural cork rivals, while screw caps produce 24 times more emissions.
The Lynx preys almost exclusively on the European rabbit, which also lives in the same cork forests.
In the 20th century, the Iberian lynx population declined dangerously due to a sharp decline in the rabbit population, caused by disease, overhunting, fragmentation of habitats and poaching. At a minimum each Lynx requires approximately one rabbit per hectare in it’s natural habitat.
Conservation measures implemented since 2002 included improving habitat, restocking of rabbits, translocating and re-introducing Iberian lynxes, so that the current population had increased to over 300 individuals. As an attempt to save this species from extinction, an EU LIFE project is underway that includes habitat preservation, lynx population monitoring, and rabbit population management.
With synthetic cork alternatives accounting for more than a third of the global market for wine bottle tops, conservationists fear landowners could switch to higher yield alternatives such as fast-growing eucalyptus trees.
Eucalyptus trees were originally imported from Australia in the 1970s to supply the European paper industry, and are already widespread across the Iberian Peninsula. Today the EU Habitats Directive prohibits destruction of lynx habitats, yet without the availability of EU funds, many dams and roads would not be built, bushland bulldozed or new plantations installed. Vital lynx habitats have been omitted - sometimes in mysterious circumstances, from the EU Natura 2000 network of European wildlife areas, and ultimately, the majority of lynx territories remain unprotected.