When you're tugging out your plastic corks and unscrewing the caps of those so satisfying bottles of wine, give a thought to the cork forests of the Alentejo. Portugal's cork oaks are threatened each time you buy a bottle of wine that isn't stoppered by natural cork.
If the local communities can no longer make a living through harvesting cork, other less environmentally sound uses for the cork forests will be found. If cork groves are abandoned or ploughed up for intensive agriculture, vast species rich areas will vanish. Acres of flower dappled grasslands, home to a unique eco system, will simply disappear or be swamped under invasive scrubby vegetation.
Cork has been harvested for at least a thousand years, many of the cork forests of the Alentejo may be hundreds of years old and are one of the few truly sustainable forms of agro forestry; it's an indigenous resource that is used without disturbing the natural biodiversity. Cork trees flourish without irrigation, fertilizers or chemical herbicides, and they regenerate after harvesting.
If cork can't be sold the local communities will have to find other less environmentally sound uses for the land, bringing the added risk of wild fires or the creeping desertification now present in Spain.
So spare a thought for the cork and when you next buy a bottle of wine. Make sure the wine produces have 'put a cork in it'.
The photographs were taken in the Alentejo, Portugal, May 2008