Mediterranean cork forests receive first ever FSC certification

Posted on July, 04 2005

Following the announcement that cork oak forests in Portugal, Spain, and Italy have become FSC-certified, WWF is calling on all cork producing countries to adopt similar measures.
Rome, Italy – WWF, the global conservation organization, applauds the world's first FSC certification of cork oak forests and products in the Mediterranean.  

The cork oak forest owners and processors recently achieved Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, recognizing that their forests and operations are managed to the highest international social and environmental standards.

WWF supports the efforts of the cork sector in Italy, Portugal, and Spain in demonstrating the responsible management of cork oak forests. WWF calls on all cork producing countries to adopt similar measures.

In Portugal, 912ha of cork land in the Alentejo region are now FSC-certified. This certification will enable cork manufacturers like Amorim, which owns two FSC-certified processing units, to supply the market with the first FSC cork products.

In Spain, 11,905ha have been FSC-certified in Andalucia in southern Spain. Andalucia's cork forests are the best conserved in the country and host several endangered species such as the Iberian lynx.

In Italy, 66ha of cork forests in Tempio Pausania in northern Sardinia have also been FSC-certified. Sardinia holds 90 per cent of Italy's cork forests.

“This is a major step for biodiversity conservation and for the cork trade," said Nora Berrahmouni, Coordinator of the WWF Cork Oak Landscapes Programme.

"Cork oak forests rank among the top biodiversity hotspots in the Mediterranean and in Europe. At the same time, they are the backbone of an entire economy. FSC certification will reinforce the already environmental-friendly characteristics of the cork economy, leading to new opportunities in cork markets.” 

Cork oak forests represent one of the best examples of the harmonious interaction between people and nature in the Mediterranean where almost the entire world production of cork is found. Hundreds of thousands of people earn their livelihood from the cork forests, while supporting nature. Not a single tree is cut to harvest the cork as the bark is stripped every 9-12 years.

Cork ecosystems are characterized by high levels of endemism, with plant species reaching up to 135 species per 0.1ha. These forests host endangered species like the Iberian imperial eagle or the barbary deer. But over the last decade, damaging policies, poor forest management and a change in the cork market have resulted in the degradation and loss of these unique forests.

“This new FSC cork certification meets the increasing demand in many industrialized countries for sustainable natural products produced in an environmentally responsible way," said Jamie Lawrence, regional manager for Western Europe for SmartWood-Rainforests Alliance, an FSC certifier.

"As a key part of an overall marketing package, it will help to improve existing markets and create new ones."
Since July 2004, WWF has been implementing the Cork Oak Forest Landscapes Programme, aimed at promoting responsible forest management and restoration practices.  
End Notes
• There are seven major cork producing countries in the world - Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia, and France.

• Launched in July 2004, WWF's five-year Cork Oak Landscapes Programme aims to protect, manage, and restore the natural wealth of cork oak forests by influencing the policies, practices and markets that affect them. The programme addresses key challenges by promoting sustainable markets, improving governance, changing policy, building capacity at local, national and international levels, and demonstrating solutions through field projects. It will focus first on Portugal, Spain, Morocco and Tunisia, and is based on four inter-related pillars including capacity building, good practices establishment, market support, and policy/advocacy. 

• Forest certification is a system of forest inspection with a means of tracking forest products through a "chain of custody" – following the raw material through to the finished product. FSC certification provides an internationally recognized label, used to encourage and promote responsible forest management. Increasingly, major retailers and customers are demanding assurance that products they source or buy come from responsibly managed operations. 

• SmartWood is a programme under the Rainforest Alliance, a not-for-profit organization helping businesses, governments and communities change their land-use practices and set standards for the long-term use of resources and the conservation of the planet’s great wealth of biodiversity. The SmartWood programme was founded in 1989 to certify responsible forestry practices and has to date certified more than 38 million acres worldwide.

For further information:  
Chantal Ménard
WWF Mediterranean Programme Office
Tel: +39 06 844 97 417/424 
Recently stripped cork oak trees, Andalucia. Spain.
© WWF / Edward Parker