The harvesting of the bark of the cork oak offers one of the finest examples of traditional, sustainable land use.
World Wildlife Fund
Cork harvesting is an environmentally friendly process during which not a single tree is cut down, and the cork industry is a near perfect example of renewable production. As the WWF says, "Choose Cork!".
The Montado in Portugal is a traditional agroforestry system where low density trees are combined with other low-impact, sustainable agricultural or ranching activities. Cork oaks are the most typical trees characterizing the Montado. These forests are native to the western Mediterranean and some of them are thousands of years old.
The balanced ecosystem of the Montado has many valuable environmental and cultural functions, including soil and water conservation, protecting habitat for a rich biodiversity of wildlife and fauna, and providing for the livelihoods of local residents who harvest the bark of the cork tree while acting as responsible stewards of the forest.
The bark of the cork oak is harvested without damaging the tree, and grows back to be harvested again every nine years over the 200+ year lifespan of the tree. Each time the bark grows back, it removes CO2 from the air. Thus, the Montado acts as a carbon sink and is an important combatant in the fight against global warming.
Cork bark is harvested by hand by skilled agricultural workers. Practices to protect the trees and the forest and ensure the quality of the final product have evolved over centuries, and become enshrined in law, so that the Montado can continue to be protected while providing economic benefit to all those who rely on it far into the future.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Montado supports one of the world's highest levels of biodiversity, including homes for endangered species such as the Iberian lynx, the Iberian imperial eagle, the Barbary deer, and many species of rare birds as well as fungi, ferns, and other plants.
The WWF recognizes that “the environmentally and economically sustainable cork industry” is necessary for these forests to thrive and ensure the future of the many species that rely on it. The WWF says “choose cork” because it is “natural and recyclable and it supports jobs and biodiversity”.
The multi-generational families of skilled workers who harvest the cork oak by hand are some of the highest paid agricultural workers in the world. The skill of hand-stripping the bark, which is passed down from parents to children, is necessary to prevent damage to the tree.
The Montado is home for these families who not only rely on the cork bark for their livelihoods, but hunt wildlife, keep bees, collect mushrooms, pasture their animals, and use the forest in a multitude of sustainable ways that protect it for their children and grandchildren.