Aren’t Cork oak trees endangered?
Cork harvesting does not harm the trees. Some cork oak stands have been lost, but this was mainly due to a combination of EU subsidies for more intensive crops and the shift from cork wine stoppers to metal and plastic. Demand for cork products creates an incentive to leave cork oak forests intact or expand them. Cork harvesting is a great example of a direct ecosystem service from sustainable agricultural practices.
What happens to the trees?
Cork oak trees survive harvesting, regrowing their bark for additional harvests every nine to twelve years. There are several great multimedia descriptions of the entire process on the web. Two of the best are:
How does cork fit into the big picture?
Cork harvesting has been a way of life in the Mediterranean for at least 1,000 years. The forests are ancient, with cork oak trees living up to 300 years. Cork harvesting is one of the best examples of a sustainable agro-forestry system where people use the natural resources, without disturbing or destroying nature. Cork harvesting can only survive as long as the demand for cork stays high. Conservation and preserving this way of life are two of the driving forces behind the “cork fashion design market” that lends itself to handbags, purses, wallets, belts and other accessories.