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A worker harvests cork from the trunk of a cork oak in the Pyrenees mountains near the Spanish village of Macanet of Cabrenys. Sales of Spanish cork, which fell dramatically between 2008 and 2010 as wine producers switched to plastic stoppers and metal screw caps, have recovered.

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The trunk of a cork oak is seen after having its cork bark harvested. Unlike most trees, cork oaks are evergreen and can regenerate their bark, making the harvest of cork a renewable and environmentally sustainable resource.

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A forklift stacks bundles of cork at a cork stoppers manufacturing company in Palafrugell, near Girona in Spain’s Catalonia region, which has been hit hard by the European economic crisis.

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A worker checks stoppers at the production centre in Palafrugell. Cork stoppers are used mainly for wine but also for olive oil and other liquids.

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A worker examines corks as they make their way down the production line at a stopper manufacturing company in Spain.

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A laboratory technician shows a jar filled with cork stoppers at the Catalan Cork Institute in Palafrugell, Spain. The traditional cork business, which has been under threat as wineries opted for metal caps or plastic stoppers, has been rescued by unlikely saviours: researchers in white coats who are demonstrating why nature’s stopper may still be one of the best ways of preserving and serving bottled wine.

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According to the Rainforest Alliance, once a cork tree reaches maturity, at about 25 years, it can be stripped of its bark once every nine to 12 years without causing damage to the tree.

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A single cork oak can be harvested more than a dozen times and live to be more than 200 years old.

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A worker loosens cork from the trunk of a cork oak, a tree that grows in Spain, Portugal, France and Italy, as well as northern Africa.

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