The cork oak dominates the countryside in Extramadura. Huge, twisted old trees stamp their character on the landscape.
This isn't a forest like the marching pines of the Lake District. It's open grassland scattered with huge trees. Fine hunting for the eagles and rare Iberian lynx, two of the species which depend on this open landscape.
Sometimes you'll pass a dark pond half hidden behind a hedge. Even if you can't see it you can hear the frogs - not one at a time, but huge colonies of them keeping up a continuous sonorous croak.
This apparently wild landscape, though, depends on human intervention. The cork oaks are stripped of their bark periodically for cork, and that's what sustains the agriculture of the region.
Unfortunately wine producers are increasing their use of plastic stoppers. Not only are these non-biodegradable - whereas cork, of course, degrades naturally in a few years; without demand for cork, farmers will have to turn to other crops, and most are looking at eucalyptus - an ecological disaster.
Besides, the cork oak plantations need to be managed sustainably. Currently, planting of young trees is way below what's required to ensure the future health of this unique landscape.
Intrigued? Concerned? Want to do something about it? Realcork tells you more.