So, what is so brilliant about cork?
Discover why your corkback coasters can have a significant impact on Europe’s biodiversity.
An ancient and unique habitat
Dehesas (Spain) and montados (Portugal) are mixed farming systems, combining oak woodlands with livestock grazing and cereal cultivation, often interspersed by areas of scrub – heather, gorse, brooms, lavender, rock rose, strawberry trees etc.
Unlike other agro-forestry systems, it developed around the existing, primeval woodlands. Cork is the most economically valuable product. Spain and Portugal have more than half of the world’s cork oak woodlands, and produce around three quarters of the worlds cork. Natural wine corks represent about 90% of the economic value of the cork market.
‘a diverse, ancient woodland ecosystem based on native flora has developed’
The outer bark of a cork oak tree can be stripped every 9-14 years without harming the tree. Since the harvesting involves no logging, a diverse, ancient woodland ecosystem based on native flora has developed.
The oak trees and associated shrubs bind the soil, prevent erosion, and maintain the water table by protecting the soil from evaporation. The wildlife these forests support is unique, and includes the endangered Iberian lynx, the Spanish imperial eagle (with a world population of around 130 breeding pairs) and the Bonelli’s eagle.
What is at stake?
Removal of the native oak forests would destroy a habitat unique in the world. Its destruction would be comparable to turning Yellowstone National Park into a wheatfield.
Species such as the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx would probably become extinct. Soil erosion, water evaporation and carbon dioxide emissions would increase.
Montados and dehesas and their important wildlife are also under pressure from powerful agribusinesses, building and real estate interests for tourism, and building of new dams, irrigation networks and highways. Falling cork prices would make it more difficult to resist these threats.
In Spain and Portugal the cork industry provides around 80,000 jobs – many local communities are virtually dependent on cork. As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) puts it: ‘If the market demand for cork back coasters were to decrease significantly, the entire system could collapse’.