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A hotspot of life

The montados (cork oak forests) are an important environmental, social and economic pillar in Mediterranean countries. As part of the Mediterranean Basin, it is inserted in one of the 36 biodiversity hotspots worldwide and has recognized protection status. The cork oak forest is a habitat for more than 130 species of vertebrates, 75 of which are birds, 28 mammals, 10-15 reptiles and 5-7 amphibians. Around 95% of all terrestrial mammals in Portugal exist in the cork oak forest (Pinto Correia et al., 2013). The endangered Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) is one of the species that historically lives and hunts in the cork oak forest, but which is currently only found in very limited numbers. In total, more than 28 cork oak forest fauna species are classified as protected (Batista et al., 2017). As regards the flora, there are more than 1,350/ha of vascular plants in this ecosystem, many of these are classified as rare or have protection status (Batista et al., 2017).

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 for every ton of cork produced, cork oak forests captures and stores up to 73 tons of CO2, a vital contribution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the main cause of climate change.

The ability to store carbon dioxide is also passed on to manufactured cork products, which continue to ensure this function until the end of its life cycle.

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 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 650 companies directly depend on this economy; involving around 8300 direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs.

Manufactured cork (around 70,5% of which from stoppers) is intended mainly for export, representing around 2% of exports of Portuguese goods and 1,2% of total Portuguese exports (The cork year book 19/10, Apcor).

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.