Thursday, 15 December 2011

Cork trees

I'd like to register my vote to make cork oaks one of the wonders of the world. This may seem like an overstatement, but they really are one of the most incredible, sustainable and eco-friendly resources on the planet and Portugal accounts for about 50 percent of the world's cork production.
The cork that most people know in the form of bottle stoppers (corks), floor tiles and trivets starts out life as the bark of an evergreen tree; the cork oak (quercus suber). Skilled workers strip the bark of the cork oak every nine years and the tree is left unharmed to regenerate its bark to be harvested again and again, for up to 200 years. This bark makes corks for wine by the billion.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimates that the 108,000 hectares of Portugal’s cork oak forests – the largest in the world – absorb about 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. It also adds that each cork tree sustains over 100 species of wildlife, including the critically endangered Iberian Lynx.

Portugal's cork forests are under threat, however, as aluminium screw caps and manmade stoppers have replaced natural cork in wine bottles. Next time you reach for a bottle at the supermarket choose natural cork. It's a simple step that helps preserve this small corner of the planet.

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