Cork oak forests, normally 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.
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 systematisation 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 montado is one of the greatest natural treasures in that it contributes to the preservation of the environment. In addition to the excellence of environmental services provides (including soil conservation, regulation of the water cycle, reduction of carbon emissions and preservation of the biodiversity), it uses an environmentally sustainable process in the cork extraction, as no trees are cut.
In addition to the high biodiversity, the montado plays an essential role in regulating water and soil conservation, providing protection against wind erosion, and increasing the rate at which rain water infiltrates and replenishes the groundwater. Given that the cork oaks intercept around 26.7% of the total rainfall, they also reduce runoff, thus preventing soil erosion.
Cork oaks provide large amounts of material that decomposes to form humus on the top layer of soil. They are able to bring, from the lower levels of the soil to the upper level, a large quantity of nutrients that would otherwise remain inaccessible to the herbaceous vegetation. It has a high water holding capacity due to its porosity, as well as high organic content.
The tree canopy of the montado also created a micro-climate that is less excessive in winter and summer, which allows a longer growth period of herbaceous vegetation. Cork oaks also reduce the wind speed, which helps to protect the crops.
In addition, due to their potential economic value, cork oaks woods can be crucial in forming forest areas that act as a barrier against desertification. Meanwhile, they also act as carbon sinks, and can help mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Lung of the Mediterranean
Over the past twenty years, we have seen eleven of the hottest years in the last 125 years, and researchers specialising in this area recognise that these changes are due to greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2). The cork oak plays a crucial role in this area. In addition to producing oxygen by photosynthesis, the unique cellular structure of cork oak fixes carbon.
Cork and Climate Change
Harvesting cork bark, assists in the absorption of CO2 – a greenhouse gas that causes climate change. In fact, harvested cork trees absorb around 3-5 times more CO2 than non-harvested trees. Cork oak trees in Portugal alone help offset 10.5 million tons of carbon every year. Cork trees are also important producers of oxygen.
Cork Is Recyclable and Biodegradable
Cork is a natural, environmentally friendly material. It biodegrades completely and can be easily recycled without producing any toxic residues.
If The Trees Go, So Do the Animals
Cork forests are amongst the top biodiversity "hotspots" in the Mediterranean and Europe. They are home to a staggering 135 plant species and 42 bird species, many of who are endangered or critically endangered.
Cork Trees Are Harvested, Not Cut Down
Cork comes from the bark of a cork oak tree. The bark is harvested from the tree every 9-12 years. Completely renewable and sustainable, harvesting bark does not harm the tree. Each time cork is harvested; cork bark regenerates itself (and in doing so absorbs CO2). In fact, cork trees lives up to a staggering 300 years of age.