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Forest management of Mediterranean corkscrews: projects and results

Mediterranean cork trees are essential both for their forest management and for the products they provide, offering multiple ecosystem services to society. However, climate change threatens its conservation, sustainable cork production and the associated value chain. Multifunctional forest management is key to increasing forest resilience and preserving biodiversity.

In 2014, the project LIFE+ SUBER, coordinated by Forestry Consortium of Catalonia, began working with the aim of implementing new management techniques to improve adaptation to climate change in cork oaks. 28 demonstration stands were established in key areas of Catalonia, applying different silvicultural treatments to improve vitality, prevent fires and restore degraded peatlands.

Between 2015 and 2016, the treatments were carried out, following these objectives:

  • Improving the vitality and production of cork (Action B1): Selective thinning to promote vigorous and productive cork oaks, maintaining a specific basimetric area (AB) according to the quality of the season (QE).
  • Prevention of large fires (Action B2): Selective cutting to reduce forest density and improve resilience to fires.
  • Restoration of degraded corks (Action B3): Treatments similar to B1 with formation pruning and seeding of acorns.

A new project led by the Institut Català del Suro Foundation called "Dissemination of new cork management techniques to improve its productivity and resilience” has assessed the impact of the mid-term actions. The results of this activity, which is financed through the 01.02.01 Technology Transfer operation of the Rural Development Program of Catalonia 2014-2022, show that the clearings have improved the vitality of the cork oaks, increasing the floristic diversity and the covering of trees and undergrowth. The total impoundments have facilitated the natural regeneration of cork trees, although the treatments to reduce the risk of fire have had moderate and short-term effects.

Impact on Ecosystem Services

  • Carbon sequestration: The treatments have improved the forest's ability to fix CO₂.
  • Water Resources: Management has increased the amount of blue water available.
  • Biodiversity: Greater floristic biodiversity has been observed after the interventions.

Conclusions

Moderately intensive thinnings increase wood and cork production. Full stands promote strong regrowth, but successive interventions are needed to control the understory and reduce fire risk. Cork forest management contributes to increasing carbon sequestration and water resources, in contrast to non-management.

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