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A hotspot of life

The montados (cork oak forests) are an important environmental, social and economic pillar in Mediterranean countries. They support a unique and fragile ecology which constitutes a habitat for rare and endangered species. They are the foundation of one of the 35 most important ecosystems in the world for preserving biodiversity - on par with Amazonia, the African Savanna and Borneo. Over 200 animal species and 135 plant species find ideal conditions for survival in the cork oak forest.

Perfectly adapted to the warm climate and arid soil, cork oak forests protect against erosion and resulting desertification. They are barrier against fire, due to the weak combustion of cork and undertake an important role in the regulation of the hydrological cycle. They also provide an essential contribution to the air that we breathe, by absorbing carbon dioxide, which without them would be released into the atmosphere.

It is estimated that every year cork oak forests retain up to 14 million tonnes of CO2, a sizeable contribution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the main cause of climate change.

Equally surprising is the fact that the cork oak increases its ability to absorb these gases during the natural regeneration process following stripping - a stripped cork absorbs, on average, five times more CO2. The ability to retain carbon dioxide is also passed on to manufactured cork products, which continue to ensure this function to absorb CO2.

These forests are a perfect example of the balance between preserving the environment and sustainable development - just the fact that no tree is felled during the stripping of the cork is a unique case in terms of sustainability. They are the foundations of an economy of the future. Revolving around cork oak culture is the best paid agricultural activity in the world, besides a wide range of agricultural, forestry, forest grazing, hunting and economic activities - the cork industry is the driving force of this sustainable development, helps to maintain thousands of jobs and keeps people on their land.

According to the WWF – World Wild Fund for Nature, over one hundred thousand people in southern Europe and north Africa directly and indirectly depend on these forests. In Portugal alone, which boasts the largest area of cork oak forest in the world, around 700 companies directly depend on this economy; approximately ten thousand jobs in factory work; 6500 jobs in forest harvesting and thousands of indirect jobs (catering, tourism, etc.).

Manufactured cork (around 70% in stoppers) is intended mainly for export (90%), representing 2,2% of total Portuguese exports.

The cork oak plays such an important role that at the end of 2011, it was unanimously declared by the Portuguese Parliament to be Portugal's National Tree and has been protected by law since the 13th century.