Our cork is grown and harvested naturally from cork oak trees in the Montado forests in Portugal. David and I were lucky enough to be invited to watch the harvest this summer and it was an inspiring and humbling experience. It was very hot, peaceful and calm, and surprisingly sandy to walk around.
Harvested naturally means just that, the bark of the lower part of the tree is cut by hand, using an axe. To make the job a little easier than it used to be, someone scores the bark and makes it into big rectangles before another uses an axe to lever it off from the tree.
The workers are fast, very focused and skilled, the process is surprisingly quiet. The bark on all the branches is left intact so the tree is protected and not harmed.
The healing process begins, and the tree quickly replaces the bark on its lower trunk with it becoming thick enough to harvest again in nine years.
The skills needed to harvest cork have traditionally been passed down from one generation to another. Though finding people who want to learn those skills is getting harder in our modern world.
The cork oak forests in Portugal offset ten million tonnes of carbon every year, and the more cork we use in our everyday lives the more cork oak trees will be planted.
They are a long-term crop; the tree will be 25 years old before its first harvest, 43 years old before its bark is good enough to be used as a cork wine stopper and has a long 200 year life. It’s incredible but cork really is a living breathing material, which continues to breathe and absorb Co2 even as a LIGA product.