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The search for Britain’s lost temperate rainforests and the battle to save them

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The search for Britain’s lost temperate rainforests and the battle to save them

Fragments of temperate rainforest grow in parts of England, Wales and Scotland, and with the right action we could help them thrive



Environment



28 November 2022

Black Tor Beare, a rainforest on Dartmoor in south-west England

Guy Shrubsole

FOR most of my life, I didn’t realise that Britain has rainforests. But then, two years ago, I moved to Devon. Exploring woods in forgotten valleys and steep-sided gorges, I found places exuberant with life.

I witnessed branches dripping with mosses and trees festooned with lichens and liverworts. Even in winter, when deciduous trees lose their leaves, these woodlands were green with a verdant luminosity due to the plethora of species clinging to them. My adventures took me to places that felt like green cathedrals. Sunlight picked out the arches of tree trunks with their haloes of moss.

I was enraptured. Surely, I thought, such rich woodland belongs in the tropics, not the UK. But it is true. The British Isles harbour fragments of a globally rare habitat: temperate rainforest.

While tropical rainforests are characterised by being rainy and hot, temperate rainforests are rainy but cool. They are rarer than the tropical variety, covering just 1 per cent of the world’s surface. They can’t match Amazonia for scale, but these habitats nonetheless teem with species and may be important carbon sinks.

Tragically, however, the British Isles have lost most of their rainforests to deforestation. In England, Scotland and Wales, the remaining fragments total at most 130,000 hectares. But there is hope for their future. With the right action, I believe the area they cover could double within a generation – and that by helping these rainforests flourish, the UK would send a powerful message on the importance of protecting rainforests the …

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