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The Land

Ribatejo and Alentejo’s most iconic landscape, the Cork Oak Forest, is a collective reference for deep rooted customs and traditions, and an important cultural and ethnological heritage focal point.  Cork Oak Forest is an idyllic, distinctive landscape with large patches of holm and cork oak plantations on rolling hills and meadows.

The Cork Oak Forest
Source: APCOR, 2018

The Montado de Sobro is the Portuguese name for a Cork Oak Forest. It is one of the richest ecosystems in the world and Portugal boasts the largest global area (with 34% of the world’s Montado landscape, 736 thousand hectares which amount to 23% of the country’s forests). Cork Oak Forest extend from sea level to 500m altitude in the Mediterranean Basin, particularly in the southern regions of the Iberian Peninsula influenced by the Atlantic Ocean.

[Distribution of Cork Oak Forest in the Mediterranean Basin].
Source: APCOR, 2018

On a global scale, Cork Oak Forest landscapes have increased by 3% over the last ten years, with more than 130 thousand hectares planted in Portugal and Spain as part of reforestation programmes.

The Cork Oak Forest is best described as sparsely settled, open grassland (the quintessential Ribatejo and Alentejo landscape reminiscent of the savannah) where cork oak trees are the main species. Cork oak forests, on the other hand, have greater tree density and are interspersed with different types of oaks,maritime pines, stone pines, and herbaceous species and shrubs, like rock roses and brooms. Although average density in these woodlands is 80 trees per hectare, it can be as high as 120 trees per hectare. Approximately 5% of the land is used for growing grains like wheat, barley and oats, while some 40% is used as pasture.

The Cork Oak Forest is a cultural landscape shaped by human activity. In other words, it is a multifunctional system devised to protect cork oak trees. The biodiversity of the Cork Oak Forest is an absolute reference in fire prevention with coexisting agricultural crops, animal biodiversity (i.e. Alentejo pigs and Serpentine goats), and the exploitation of resources like cork, acorn and pasture, all within a relevant silvopastoral system.

Unsurprisingly, this particular ecosystem is home to a high level of species diversity like the Bonelli’s eagle, the Iberian Imperial eagle, along with badgers, weasels, foxes, wild boars and the Iberian lynx. But the Cork Oak Forest is just as known for its plant biodiversity, with aromatic herbs like lavender, thyme and rosemary, as well as several types of wild fungi with complex and symbiotic relationships with cork oak trees to be found there.

The economic value of the montado is essentially reflected in the production of cork and in the prominent position that Portugal plays as the top exporter of this raw material, with its cultural importance underscoring with the role of cork in preserving biodiversity. Associated to the economy of the territory of this PROVERE is one of the most singular activities practiced there: cork harvesting.

The Cork Oak Forest also has the capacity to sustain other economic activities of regional and local importance, namely producing quality beef and dairy products as part of the agro-food industry, apiculture, collecting edible mushrooms, hunting resources, and tourist activities (nature tourism, rural tourism, and eco-tourism).

Within the social context, the Cork Oak Forest represents a system in which human endeavour is the central key to the land’s operations. The “monte” is a hilltop structuring and distinctive element of the Cork Oak Forest which constitutes the first human dwelling in the territory and rural settlement in the Alentejo. Typically, it is atop this “monte” that workers of the estates are given lodging and where animals and equipment are kept. This system is strongly linked to traditional agricultural, forestry and cattle-raising practices and the organization of land properties.