Known above all for its use in wine or champagne corks, “cork has many good years ahead of it with global warming”, explains to AFP François Muracciole, director of the Corsican cooperative Silvacoop.

“Already, we don’t cut the trees so the CO2 reservoir is constant and this biosourced product has many qualities: it is rot-proof, insulating and has a very strong resistance to fires”, cork oaks surviving forest fires a once the charred cork is removed.

Since 2016, the cooperative has been engaged in long-term work to revive a sector which experienced its prosperous period in Corsica in the 1960s before almost disappearing.

In a forest near Sotta, two cork cutters from the Italian island of Sardinia, very close to Corsica are hard at work: With dexterity, Gigi Gessa, 40 years of ax cutting experience and Alessandro Zucca, 20 years on the clock, in a few minutes strip the tree of its bark about two meters high. Pietro Marrocu, a third Sardinian, collects and prepares this cork for transport.

“That’s the whole difficulty, you have to hit hard to split the cork but not too much so as not to damage the mother”, the name of the bare trunk. The sensor, they have it in the biceps”, marvels François Muracciole who recruited these experienced Sardinian workers capable of taking “about 700 kg” of cork per day.

The first “lifting” is done on an oak of about twenty years and allows to remove low quality “male cork”, used mainly in insulation, explains the director of the cooperative which brings together 140 owners and nearly 4,000 hectares of forest.

Then will come, after nine to 12 years of reconstitution of the precious bio-material, a second lifting of “female cork” of better quality and so on, every ten years.

“There is no team of traditional lifters in Corsica, that’s the big problem” knowing that it takes “five to six years to train them”, points out Mr. Muracciole.

– Bigger harvest potential –

“I am from the region where cork has always been lifted. I dream of learning this trade” to rehabilitate family plots of cork oaks, confides to AFP Joseph Matteï, student in BTS forest management of 18 years. , currently in training.

To increase productivity and above all find an island workforce, in 2021 the cooperative trained around ten Corsican forestry entrepreneurs in a new machine which this year enabled the first mechanized lifting in Sartène (Corse-du-Sud), faster and less hard than with an axe.

This mini-chainsaw, equipped with a probe that controls the depth of cut so as not to injure the tree, is a hope for the sector.

Corsica has 60,000 hectares of cork oaks, “the greatest harvest potential in all of France”, underlines Silvacoop, which has already multiplied its cork production by eight in six years, between 2016 and 2022.

However, more than 70% of the mobilizable standing resource is low quality “male cork” and less than 10% is of “corkable cork” quality.

François Muracciole judges “illusory to want to redo the cork in Corsica” while Portugal, the world’s leading cork producer, and in particular the Amorim company, covers 70% of the world cork market.

This year, the Corsican cooperative is working with three types of cork: the “male” transformed “in Sardinia into cork granules or reconstituted panels for insulation”.

Of the two qualities of female cork, 80% will go to Spain for the manufacture of reconstituted stoppers based on crushed cork. The remaining 20%, of intermediate quality, will go to Sardinia to make medium quality corks.

“The objective is to collect 300 to 400 tonnes per year in the years to come”, against 110 tonnes today and “to set up a first transformation in Corsica, to work on cork-based insulation” , projects Mr. Muracciole.