“Why can’t I cut down a tree on my own land?”
"The cork oak shown in the picture is right where I want to make a car parking space - can I cut it down?"
Cork oaks cannot legally be cut down in Portugal without permission issued from the Ministry of Agriculture which will 'consider' the removal of old, unproductive trees.
This tree’s importance in Portugal has been recognised since the 13th century, a time when the first laws arose for the protection of a species that lives for 200 years or more.
A decree law in the 1970s stated that it is illegal to cut down a cork oak, whether dead or alive, without State permission and on pain of a stiff fine and a possible 25-year ban from using the land.
This law was in response to the widespread destruction of Portugal’s cork oak forests by farmers keen to plant eucalyptus for the pulp industry.
Unlike eucalyptus, the cork oak’s thermal properties make it a natural fire retardant, slowing forest fires which can tear through densely planted eucalyptus forests.
At the end of 2011, the cork oak became Portugal's national tree and over 20% of Portugal's forest area now is cork oak, each tree individually identified.
Cork oak forests create viable grazing and hunting zones and are ideal for growing many medicinal plants and mushrooms, bees live happily there and cork forests are ideal for birdwatching and horse-riding activities – and they are beautiful.
For those moving to live in countryside areas, trees have rights too - so definitely check out your legal obligations before reaching for the chainsaw.
The cork oak in the picture has rights too - work around it!