The Celtic Rainforest of Great Britain is receiving more attention


What a discovery that Great Britain is home to its own temperate rainforests! It is a well-known fact that the UK is rainy, but we usually associate rainforests with the tropics, where it humid and hot all year round. But the lesser-known rainforests in temperate zones play an equally important role as a climate buffer and harbor a very large biodiversity of plants, fungi and animals. That is why they deserve to be better known and given special protection status, because now only small isolated patches remain. Briton Guy Shrubsole, writer and activist, calls for protection and recognition of the unique Celtic Rainforest.

Author: Kathelijne Bonne.

Lichens, typical in rainforests (photo: Pexels)
Lichens, typical in rainforests (photo: Pexels)

Fairy Tale

But what do temperate rainforests look like? Like the setting of a fairy tale: bright green, foggy, moist and drops everywhere, very old gnarled trunks covered with lichens, liverworts, other mosses, the soil slippery with undergrowth and ferns. There are also many endemic species, sometimes restricted to one valley.

Typical in rainforests are epiphytes, i.e., plants that live on other plants, on branches, bark and leaves. The couple of lichen specialists (lichenologists) Brian and Sandy Coppins of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, discovered that some lichens from the tropics also occur in Scottish rainforests. Moreover, these forests have been called rainforests for just ten years. 

From Canada to Japan

Temperate rainforests occur naturally in very wet areas such as the west coasts of Britain and Ireland, Japan, northern Spain, New Zealand, Russia, west coast of Canada and US, Iran, and a few other places. But they lost ground due to deforestation, and also because they grow more slowly than imported coniferous species and other exotics.

A temperate rainforest in New Zealand (Michal Klajban/Wikipedia)
A temperate rainforest in New Zealand (Michal Klajban/Wikipedia)

Crossties and deer

Britain has a very large climate strip where rainforests once grew and where they are better introduced back: They can thrive on 20% of the land surface. But now there are only small patches of rainforest left in Scotland, the Lake District, Wales, and Dartmoor. And only 13% of the land consists of forest, most of it planted conifers (conifers grow quickly and are thus lucrative for the timber trade, their straight trunks also adorn railroads as crossties). Traditionally, the rainforests have also been threatened by overgrazing (sheep, deer), the coal industry, and nowadays by climate change and price increases by syndicates that want to compensate for their emissions by buying up tracts of land and trading them over the heads of local communities. This makes conservation projects and local initiatives more difficult.

Mapping the Celtic Rainforest

But fortunately, rainforests are now getting more attention. The campaign that has been launched, I read in The Guardian newspaper, is called the Lost Rainforests of Britain. The project started as a personal blog by Guy Shrubsole and grew into a movement that now demands that the Government map all fragments of the Celtic Rainforest, protect them and restore them to their former glory. Guy's main goal is to raise awareness so that action and civic participation will ensue. Way to go Guy! 


Read more about forests and mosses:

Recommended: "Gathering Moss" by Robin Wall Kimmerer, I received this book about moss for my birthday from my friend, writer and philosopher Silvia Zuleta Romano.  

Sources of this article, click on the links to see beautiful photos of the Celtic Rainforest:

Vivien Cumming, April 2022, National Geographic: Britain has a rainforest - and it's in trouble.

Lost Rainforests of Britain website.

Guardian, Jun 2022, Britain's vanishing rainforests must be protected, say campaigners