Cork oaks stripped of their bark in the Monte La Acedía area.
Cork oaks stripped of their bark in the Monte La Acedía area. / C. M.

Cork oaks which keep fire at bay

  • Casares uses the money from cork stripping on fire prevention measures

Cork is a material with many properties. It provides natural acoustic isolation, is fireproof and non-flammable. It can protect from fire. In the village of Casares, however, the natural properties of cork are being expanded even further. Not only does the cork not transmit fire, it also prevents it, in the local mountains, at least. The council is using part of the money it obtains from stripping bark from the cork oaks to put extra fire prevention measures into place.

Every year, the town hall puts to tender the contract to strip the cork from the trees on public land in the mountains. The work is normally carried out between 15 June and 15 September, although this can vary depending on the development of the trees. Half of the fee paid by the company which is awarded the contract is now being invested in fire prevention tasks. This year, 6,000 euros will be spent on this project.

The works will consist of cleaning more than 2,800 metres of tracks and access lanes to the Monte de la Acedía, the creation of auxiliary ditches, five metres wide, on both sides of the roads and checking that all the firebreaks are in adequate condition. In total, about 70 hectares of land will be protected.

Cristóbal García, the environmental technician at Casares town hall, says this area is “very sensitive because it is very close to the coast, separated by the road, and there are numerous access tracks.”

In fact, in the past 30 years there have been two serious fires in this mountainous area. “It’s used quite a lot because there are houses scattered around here, but it also means that unscrupulous people who intend to cause damage can also access it easily,” he says.

The risk of fire is greater after the bark has been stripped from the cork oaks because they become more sensitive to fire and it takes two or three years for them to build up resistance again.

The cork stripping is carried out every eight or nine years once the tree is 25 years old and has reached a certain size, with a circumference of approximately 60 centimetres. Cork oaks, unlike other species, do not have a rest period in the winter; theirs takes place in the summer.

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Cristóbal García says that other municipalities obtain much more money from their cork stripping because they have large expanses of cork oak forests. However, last year Casares council earned more money from this than the previous year, and the amount depends on various factors such as the weather, fires and fluctuations in the price of cork on the market.

In addition, the local authority has written a Self-Protection Plan for the owners of properties and land in rural areas, to help them be prepared in case a fire breaks out. It is obligatory for every isolated property to have such a plan, and the document includes information about what to do if there is a fire, how to prepare alternative exit routes in advance, and other preventive measures. Early this year the council carried out clearing and cleaning work on the road to La Acedía, to give local residents another way out in a fire.