Cork forests: an environmental, tourist and industrial resource

The results of the research conducted by Eurispes on cork, one of Sardinia’s main natural resources that for decades has been one of the region’s economic drivers, were presented in a video conference today, Wednesday, June 22, 2022. Entitled “Cork forests: an environmental, tourist and industrial resource“, the research was conceived with the aim of probing the various aspects, therefore not only of an economic nature but of the importance that cork has had on the island’s economic and social fabric. Cork in Sardinia has not only been a raw material for industrial production, but also a resource whose possible benefits, especially today, are beginning to be discovered with greater awareness from the dual perspective of environmental protection and tourism promotion. The research also aims to respond to another need: to identify the difficulties and potential of the cork oak forest, which has not been spared by the crisis.

The presentation of the research was attended by the Councillors of the Sardinian Region, Andrea Biancareddu (Public Education and Cultural Heritage) and Giuseppe Fasolino (Planning and Budget), the Mayor of Tempio Pausania, Gianni Addis, the Head of Research and Innovation of the Regional Planning Centre, Fabio Tore, the scientific coordinator of the research and member of the Scientific Committee of the regional office of Eurispes, Giovanni Tendas, the scientific collaborator of the research, Antonio Carta, and the scientific manager of the research, Carlo Marcetti. The meeting was coordinated by Gerolamo Balata, Director of the Eurispes regional office.

The crisis that the cork sector is facing, and which has both domestic and international causes, was the starting point for an analysis aimed not so much at researching the reasons for its decline, but rather at identifying and launching possible different development prospects for those territories through the care and valorisation of the cork forest with which the places, their culture, the quality of the environment, the landscape, the rural world, the presence of man and his activities, are so closely linked, and to identify other, different possibilities, not substitutive but integrative, functional, for what is one of the most important resources of the economy of the inland municipalities of north-eastern Sardinia.

Despite the challenges affecting the sector, the cork oak forest continues to be one of the most important economic resources of the inland area of north-eastern Sardinia. It is important to understand the multifunctionality of this asset, the valorisation of which can generate positive spin-offs in several contexts. All the more so, if we bear in mind the estimates of the 2015 National Inventory of Forests and Carbon Reservoirs (INFC), which indicate Sardinia as the Italian region with the highest concentration of forest areas and natural lands, amounting to over 1,200,000 hectares, a good percentage of which are cork and cork oak forests. According to the data of the 2014/2020 Rural Development Plan (RDP), about 250,000 hectares of forest area are characterised by the presence of cork oaks (140,000 hectares) and cork oak forests, including cork arboreal pastures and other suitable forest and pre-forest areas.

Therefore, the report highlighted the importance of cork oak forests with respect to global and local objectives and strategies, dwelt on the analysis of them as an ecological system of considerable relevance and on the contribution that it can make to the global objectives of CO² absorption and mitigation of climate change in progress and to the fulfilment of Italy’s international commitments, not underestimating its nature as a heritage of exceptional importance from a landscape point of view, as characteristic and unique in the Mediterranean.

Community programming in agriculture – from Agenda 2000 to the Next Generation EU – indicates the care of the environment and the landscape as parts of the common and collective heritage, requiring member states to share the Common Forestry Strategy, which in Italy has found application in the Framework Programme for the forestry sector and in the National Forestry Strategy (SFN), dismissed by the MIPAAF in February 2022.

At present, in the national and regional context, cork-oak forests are indicated as a heritage to be protected and developed as they are essential not only as a support to transformation activities but above all for the affirmation of the objectives of environmental policies, to favour forms of multifunctionality of the activities of local enterprises with prevalent agro-forestry and pastoral management and income integration in the growing awareness that the rural world represents a reserve of resources and potentialities, of tourist and naturalistic attraction, largely unexplored and not adequately valorised.

From the Consolidated Text on forests and forestry supply chains (Legislative Decree 34/2018) to the most recent regional laws on forestry and sustainable forest management (L.R. 3/89, PFAR of 2006, L.R. 8/2016) through the successive Regional Rural Development Plans from 2000 to the present day, it can be observed how there is special attention to the subject that, more often than not, has unfortunately failed to achieve the set objectives.

Sustainable forest management and the intelligent use of resources, including economic ones, can not only maintain and enhance forests and their rich biodiversity with their function of absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, but also bring about social effects in terms of wealth growth, initiating a process of diversification of the rural economy and the creation of new employment and income opportunities through the promotion of non-agricultural activities in an attempt also to stem the depopulation of inland areas and marginal rural areas, allowing for a sustainable tourist exploitation of the territories.

Cork forests are an important economic resource, about 85% of Italy’s forests are concentrated in Sardinia and the north-east of the island accounts for most of the regional heritage. For a long time, they have fuelled the economy to the point of being internationally recognised as a ‘leading territory’ in cork production and processing and leading to the birth of an Industrial District, but today they are increasingly in need of being safeguarded from processes of decay and impoverishment.

The research identifies tourism and, in general, the hospitality industry as one of the sectors that can benefit most from the valorisation of the island’s forest resources. Small and medium-sized accommodation units are more widespread, and these are found mainly in inland areas. Compared to the large hotel establishments, they perform an annual activity that intercepts a growing number of tourists, mostly foreigners, who visit the Island and its interior during the low and mid-season months. The flow is made up of 40% of tourists of various nationalities aged between 45 and 60, 20% aged between 35 and 44, and a similar percentage in the 25 to 34 age bracket. This is a diverse target group that is looking for eco-sustainable, active and experiential forms of holiday, and that is seeking the most authentic and well-preserved environmental context. Thus, it is necessary to think of a different relationship with spaces, places and rural culture in which the cork oak forest, becoming the object of new forms of care and maintenance, is the driving force behind a broader range of activities, and interventions and project directions. Rethinking, in light of the results of the Eurispes research, the role that the cork-oak forest can play in all this means investing in the quantitative and qualitative improvement of cork as a product, as well as committing to the protection of the habitat and framing the strategic presence of the cork-oak forest within the agro-forestry sector with which it must necessarily interface. Within all this, the growing demand for a kind of tourism that is increasingly oriented towards alternative or integrated forms of holiday, from which the inland area can benefit, can also be met.

The full study can be viewed, after registering on our site, at the link https://eurispes.eu/ricerca-rapporto/le-foreste-di-sughero-risorsa-ambientale-turistica-e-industriale-2022/

The presentation videoconference is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vI2fKvxoOLA

 

 

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