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Cork oak forests, which cover 2.7 million of hectares worldwide and support rare species such as Iberian lynx, black storks and booted eagles, are already disappearing in some areas. Faced with falling demand for cork stoppers, which make up 70 per cent of the income from cork harvests, farmers are ripping up trees that have been on their land for hundreds of years in an attempt to grow alternative crops, such as eucalyptus.
"Cork oak forests have been maintained in the seven countries in the world where they exist because of their economic value," said Nora Berrahmouni, head of the forest unit at the WWF's Mediterranean program. "They have such a rich biodiversity that in just 0.1 of a hectare of forest there are more than 100 certified species. Without the trees, the ecosystem will change and that will speed the degradation of the landscape."
Cork oaks, which take 45 years to reach maturity at which point they can begin to be harvested, are the only trees that can survive having the majority of their bark stripped off.
The cork industry in Portugal is now attempting to fight back and has introduced new sterilisation and purification methods for ensuring their corks are not contaminated with Trichloroanisol. In Portugal, cork forests cover nearly 33 per cent of the countries land mass. They are home to rare species including black storks and booted eagles, both of which only nest in cork oaks.