Did you know we have our very own rainforest here in the UK? Let’s take a look at the habitat, where it can be found, the variety of wildlife that lives there and the threats it faces.

Defining the rainforest

You guessed it - the rainforest is defined by… rain. More technically it is in areas of high oceanicity where there is high rainfall and humidity and also low annual variation in temperature. It is sometimes referred to as Atlantic woodland.

Generally, the main composition of the woodland is oak in a mix with birch and ash. Hazel woods are an important canopy species in their own right and feature at many sites on the west coast of Scotland, such as Ballachuan Hazelwood. Ravines and individual trees also create important features to form a mosaic of habitat niches.

Distribution

Rainforests in the UK are best considered globally as part of the Coastal Temperate Rainforest biome. It is a habitat which is globally rare and some say is more threatened than tropical rainforest. The map below shows just how rare it is.

The areas where conditions for this habitat thrive in the UK are along the western seaboard. The key areas include the West Coast of Scotland, Snowdonia, Devon, Cumbria and Northern Ireland.

Wildlife

Our rainforests are one of the most biodiverse habitats in the UK. The high humidity and low temperature range create the perfect conditions for moisture-loving lichens and bryophytes (mosses and liverworts).

A good example of this habitat could contain over 200 different species of bryophytes and 100-200 species of lichen. The UK has an international responsibility to protect many of these species due to their scarce global distribution.

The key lichen communities include the Lobarion and Graphidion lichens. Probably the most recognisable is tree lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria) which is a large, leafy lichen common in this habitat. It literally looks like the lungs of the forest.

Our rainforests are also home to lots of other rare and interesting wildlife such as the conservation priority species, hazel gloves fungus (Hypocreopsis rhododendri), migrant birds such as pied flycatcher, wood warbler, redstart and tree pipit and butterfly species such as the chequered skipper to name but a few.

Threats

The rainforest was once a well utilised resource providing timber, charcoal and tannin for tanning leather. But now our rainforest is threatened. It has suffered long term declines through clearances and conversion to other uses, leaving a small and fragmented resource.

It also suffers two major threats:

  • invasive species
  • high levels of grazing, primarily from deer.

Rhododendron (specifically Rhododendron ponticum and associated hybrids) has been called ‘the most damaging and most widespread non-native terrestrial plant in Britain’. A plant originally from the Iberian Peninsula, introduced to the UK around 1760, it’s an aggressive coloniser that reduces the biodiversity value of a site. It obstructs the regeneration of woodlands and once established, it’s difficult and costly to eradicate.

The small and fragmented nature of the habitat also reduces its resilience against other threats, such as pests, diseases and climate change.

Where to see rainforest

The key areas for the habitat are the West Coast of Scotland, Snowdonia, Devon, Cumbria and Northern Ireland. The Woodland Trust estate has some great sites where you can explore this habitat.

Crinan Wood, Argyll & Bute, Scotland

With sweeping vistas across Loch Crinan to the romantic Duntrune Castle and the Argyll coastline, there can hardly be a wood with a more breathtaking outlook. Here, the moist, mild climate creates a temperate rainforest of ancient Atlantic oakwood, dripping with rare fern, moss and lichen, and brimming with wildlife, including the iconic red squirrel. Crinan Wood is one of our must-see gems.

Look out for: Crinan Wood is teeming with wildlife and a visit to the woods and the wider area gives you a chance to tick off three of ‘Scotland’s Big Five’ iconic wild animals: red squirrel, red deer and harbour seal. Red squirrels are a common sight and seals can pop up almost anywhere along the coast, but to have the best chance of observing red deer, Britain's largest land animal, you need to stay downwind, and keep very quiet and still.

Other species to look out for include bats, otters and, in spring and summer, the pearl bordered fritillary butterfly. Beavers have recently been reintroduced on Forestry Commission land close by.

Crinan Wood also has more than 20 species of breeding bird, including tree pipit and redstart. Osprey may also be seen fishing nearby. Bird hides are scattered around the area, and local birdwatchers have spotted lots of species along the Add Estuary, just a short drive away.

Coed Felenrhyd & Llennyrch, Gwynedd, Wales

In 2015, we had the fantastic opportunity to acquire Llennyrch, a traditional upland farm with an extraordinary surviving fragment of the rainforest at its heart. Together with our existing wood, Coed Felenrhyd (also known locally as Melenrhyd), this landscape has a place in Welsh myth and stretches from the shores of Llyn Trawsfynydd to the fringes of the Dwyryd Estuary. The steep banks of the Afon Prysor are thought to have been wooded for thousands of years, possibly since trees first recolonised Wales after the last Ice Age. It’s a magical place with a rainforest feel that echoes with birdsong and gnarled oaks are festooned with mosses and ferns.

Look out for: The steep sides of the ravine are cloaked in sessile oak woodland with rowan and birch, with species such as ash, hazel and elm on milder soils. This woodland is designated as a SSSI for its Atlantic bryophytes, which thrive in the humid conditions.

The quality of the lower plant flora is of global importance, a fact recognised by its inclusion within the Meirionnydd Oakwoods and Bat Sites Special Area of Conservation. More recently, survey work has confirmed the site's international importance for lichen conservation. A number of rare species found here occur nowhere else in Wales and their presence indicates significant habitat continuity over many thousands of years.

Rainforest in the UK is part of a globally rare habitat and home to a vast amount of interesting wildlife. 

Unfortunately like many habitats it is threatened, but we are working with partners in both Wales and Scotland to conserve this hugely important habitat.

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Dappled sunlight on a path through broadleaf woodland

Trees woods and wildlife

Habitats

The UK’s woodlands are rich and diverse, supporting more invertebrates than any other habitat. From lush temperate forests, to orchards and old hunting grounds. Each is varied and complex, shaped by geology, soils, climate and people over generations. With special and often spectacular wildlife, they are magical places.

Explore woodland habitats