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Cork oak forests, referred to as montados, are the lungs of the environment, the economy and the society of Mediterranean countries. They have such an important role for nature and people that they are protected by law. In Portugal, where there is the largest cork oak forest area in the world, the cork oak is the national tree and has been protected by law since the 13th century. A growing awareness of the value of the ecosystem of the cork oak forest has led to important initiatives in reforestation and the systematization of good practices. It is a way of ensuring the future, without forgetting the old saying: «Whoever cares for their grandchildren, plants a cork oak».
The largest and oldest cork oak in the world is called the Whistler Tree. The name comes from the sound made by the numerous songbirds which land on its branches, reaching a height of over 14 meters. Although it is still possible to establish its direct contribution to the cork industry - it is a unique tree -, it is impossible to calculate how many animals it has sheltered, fed with its acorns and the extent to which it has contributed to fertilizing and irrigating the land and even to fighting global warming.
Similarly to the Whistler Tree on the Alentejo plain, millions of other cork oaks all over the Mediterranean basin support a unique and fragile ecology which constitutes a habitat for rare and endangered species. It's not just the over two hundred animal species that find ideal conditions for survival in the cork oak forest - per each thousand square meters, there are 135 plant species, many of which are medicinal, aromatic or used in cooking.
These forests form one of the richest ecosystems in terms of biodiversity, being recognised by environmental NGOs as one of the 35 world hotspots in this field. They are on a par with paradises such as Amazonia, the Andes or Borneo.
Perfectly adapted to the warm climate and arid soil, cork oak forests protect against erosion and resulting desertification and are a natural barrier against fire, due to the weak combustion of cork, which acts as an outer layer of skin on the cork oak. The roots retain rainwater, forming vital watersheds and absorb nutrients from the depths of the earth, which are later returned to the soil through the leaves, which become a natural fertilizer
Cork is a 100% natural, renewable, recyclable and biodegradable material that is obtained through an environmentally friendly harvesting process.
Trees are not cut down to harvest cork, rather, the bark is harvested by hand every 9 years. Cork oak trees can live up to 300 years!
Approximately 6.6 million acres of Mediterranean cork forest extend across Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France. These oak forests support one of the world's highest levels of forest bio diversity, second only to the Amazonian Rainforest
Opting for screw caps and plastic stoppers directly causes the loss of sustainable livelihoods as the cork forests are a vital source of income for thousands of families.
There is enough cork in the cork forests of Portugal and Spain to last more than 100 years. The introduction of new products, such as composite corks, allows even better utilization of existing cork resources