Environmental protection is a hot topic around the world. We separate waste, try to avoid plastic and use renewable energy. The cork oak, a true natural wonder, shows, however, that nature has the best solutions when it comes to sustainability.
Cork oak forests are unique ecosystems which are maintained by responsible management. This results in positive effects for global warming, the protection of biodiversity as well as for the economic and social structures of the region.
The unique natural material can be harvested gently without the tree or the environment being damaged. The raw material gained is unrivaled with regard to the diversity of its talents. This also includes the fact that cork is 100% recyclable .
Thanks to these unique characteristics, the mighty gnarly giants with their constantly regenerating bark supply a fascinating renewable resource, whose lifecycle – from planting to recycling – is beneficial to the environment.
The cork oak – a role model for sustainability
The increasing economic importance of cork, which started in the middle of the 19th century, resulted in reforestation of the cork oak. A real blessing for the environment, as the cork oak is an important part of a mixed vegetation, the cork oak forests, called “Montado” in Portugal. This cultural heritage is an ancient ecosystem which makes an important contribution to the protection of biological diversity. In addition to 24 species of reptiles and amphibians, 160 bird species and 37 mammal species, the cork oak forests constitute a safe sanctuary for many endangered species, among them the Iberian fox, the Spanish imperial eagle and the black vulture. The flora also prospers and thrives under the protection of the evergreen forest. All this makes the cork oak biotope one of the biologically most diverse habitats in the world.
However, the protection of biodiversity is not the only talent of cork oaks. They regulate the water cycle, protect the soil and are considered to be a natural protection against fire due to their low inflammability.
The cork oak is not only beneficial for nature, but also for humans. Natural or planted forests of this approximately 60-million-year-old tree species only exist in the Western Mediterranean – mostly in Portugal. Thus, the cork oak forests are of great economic and social importance for the Portuguese. With roughly 740,000 hectare, more than 30% of all cork oaks are located in Portugal. Due to the high demand, cork oak forests grow by approximately 1% per year and provide approximately 18,500 people with a job with fair pay in the industrial sector and in the forest industry. Not included in these figures are thousands of additional jobs which are indirectly linked to the cork oak as an economic factor – 100,000 people are employed in the production of natural cork stoppers alone. Anyone who believes that cork oak forests grow but that the trees are damaged while harvested or even felled is absolutely wrong. You want to know why? We will tell you in part 3 of our series about the natural wonders of the cork oak and provide you with exciting information on the unique characteristics of cork!