Preserving Mediterranean’s cork

Geographical location:

Europe/Middle-East > Europe General

Europe/Middle-East > North Africa > Algeria
Europe/Middle-East > North Africa > Morocco
Europe/Middle-East > North Africa > Tunisia
Europe/Middle-East > Southern Europe > Italy
Europe/Middle-East > Southern Europe > Portugal
Europe/Middle-East > Southern Europe > Spain
Europe/Middle-East > West Central Europe > France

Cork oak harvesting in Coruche. Ribatejo region, Portugal.
© WWF-Canon / Sebastian RICH

Summary

Mediterranean cork oak forests host a rich diversity of wildlife, including Iberian lynx, imperial eagle and Barbary Deer. They are also a vital source of income for many people who sustainably harvest the trees for wine corks. But as demand for cork products fall in favour of alternative wine stoppers, cork oak forests may be abandoned and precious habitats could be lost.

WWF is working with local communities throughout the region to protect and restore these unique forests. This involves promoting products from sustainably managed cork oak forests and publicizing, especially within the wine industry, the environmental and economic value of cork stoppers.

Background

Extending over a surface of about 2,700,000 ha in 7 Mediterranean countries (Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France), the cork oak forest ecosystems are typically mosaics of mixed forest habitat types and woodlands, highly diverse scrub communities and very rich species composition pastures. They are spread over large areas with low human impact and high plant and fauna diversity value. The cork oak is emblematic of the landscape, but other forest species, such as holm oak, zen oak, and pine, are also important.

Cork oak forest landscapes represent one of the best Mediterranean examples of the development of the multi-functional role of forests, maintained over thousands of years. In these landscapes high conservation value forest areas alternate with multipurpose farmland systems, which integrate extensive agriculture, forestry, grazing, hunting, and other recreational uses.

Well managed cork oak forests provide valuable ecological functions such as the conservation of soil, buffering against climate change and desertification, water table recharge and run-off control. These functions are still not fully valued and forest managers do not yet receive compensation for maintaining these services.

In Southern Europe, the population drift from rural areas has reduced the availability of labour for farming and forestry. Intensive mechanised land use, such as irrigated crops and plantations of exotic forest species, has replaced the traditional cork oak forest landscape in many areas. In the countries of North Africa, there is increasing pressure on cork oak landscapes for more intensive land use such as pasture and agriculture as well as forestry.

Objectives

1. Ensure that key actors from the cork producing countries are able to address key issues in the cork oak landscapes: good practice, policy and advocacy, and the market chain.

2. Develop, endorse and test good conservation and management practices by major actors in priority cork oak forest landscapes.

3. Increase market demand for cork forest products that supports sustainable cork oak forest landscapes and economically viable local communities.

4. Adapt key national and international land use policy instruments to support good governance and funding mechanisms for cork oak forest management, protection and restoration.

Solution

WWF MedPO's previous work in the ecoregion has created conditions for drawing up the WWF network's cork land strategy and to begin its implementation by undertaking the first 5-year cork oak forest programme.

The programme is built on 3 main modules that help to address the root causes behind degradation of the cork oak landscapes:

1. Good practices (developing guidelines for good practices, demonstration models and projects).

2. Policy and advocacy (analyse the impacts of the different policies and develop recommendations to influence policy change, develop lobbying plans and implement them).

3. Markets (footprint): drive the good practices thorugh the markets chain, using the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification as a tool, lobbying the cork industry to commit to responsible purchasing.

Achievement

- Public commitments from big cork industry players to FSC certiifcation.

- Pilot FSC certification projects ongoing in Portugal and Spain, and also Italy.

- Through its restoration projects in Southern Portugal, WWF built important partnerships with NGOs and the national commission for restoration in Portugal. The latter will use the forest landscape restoration (FLR) guidelines in its national plan for restoration of burned areas.

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