The environmental and community benefits of harvesting cork
What is cork leather?
Cork leather is made from the bark of the cork oak tree. The bark is harvested once every ten years, then boiled, pressed and backed to make fabric. The bark stripping process does not harm the tree, which can live up to 200 years, making cork a sustainable, renewable resource.
Cork oak woodlands cover almost 2.7 million hectares of the Mediterranean, including Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and North Africa. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) defines cork oak as a priority species, meaning that cork oak is one of the most environmentally, culturally, and economically important species on the planet.
Cork forests are under threat
Historically, cork forests have been harvested and maintained to serve the wine industry. But with the wine industry turning towards screw tops, there has been a large decline in demand for cork. This is bad news for rural communities, who make a living producing cork stoppers, and for the rare plant and animal species that call cork forests their home. If the forests aren’t providing income, then the locals have to pursue other vocations, turning away from their forest preservation work.
In the words of the WWF, unless the value of commercial cork is maintained, “there is a risk that the Western Mediterranean cork oak landscapes will face an economic crisis, an increase in poverty, an intensification in forest fires, a loss of irreplaceable biodiversity and an accelerated desertification process within less than 10 years.”
So what can we do? Increase the demand for cork with new and exciting products, like our black tote bag!
Increasing the commercial demand for cork helps to protect the cork forests
If cork products have value in the market, then local communities will manage and preserve the forests. Cork forests need protection as:
- They have incredibly unique ecosystems and some of the richest forest biodiversity in the world. Some of the globe’s rarest, most threatened animal and plant species, such as the Iberian lynx and the Barbary deer, call the cork woodlands home.
- They help to fight climate change by absorbing massive amounts of carbon and converting it into organic matter. Considering the scale of Mediterranean cork forests and the long lifespan of the trees, it is estimated that the cork forests of the world can retain approximately 30 million tons of CO2 at a time. Cork harvesting also aids in this process, as the regeneration of the bark encourages extra CO2 absorption.
- Cork oak trees are especially adapted to the harsh Mediterranean climate, not only surviving but enriching the environment around them. The trees increase the richness of the soil, prevent degradation and desertification, and regulate the water cycle.
- The cork forests provide a vital source of income for thousands of people, and ensure the survival of local rural communities and their heritage.
The Iberian Imperial Eagle is an endangered species native to the cork oak forests
So what is cork like as a leather alternative? Read about the unique characteristics of cork as a textile here.