Rainforests in the UK: where to find them
Conservation adviser - woodland
Did you know we have our very own rainforest here in the UK? Let’s take a look at the habitat, where to find it, the wildlife that lives there and the threats it faces.
What is a rainforest?
You guessed it - the rainforest is defined by… rain. More technically, it is in areas subject to the influence of the sea, which we call high oceanicity. These places have high rainfall and humidity and low annual variation in temperature. Our rainforest is sometimes referred to as Atlantic woodland.
Credit: Jordan Mansfield / WTML
Which trees grow in UK rainforests?
In the UK, rainforests are often dominated by oak, birch and ash, along with species like rowan, holly, willow and hazel. In some areas, woods can be almost entirely made up of hazel. These are special features of the west coast of Scotland, such as Ballachuan in Argyll. In places, native Scots pine also grows. Learn more about these British trees.
Where to find rainforest
Rainforests in the UK are part of the Coastal Temperate Rainforest biome. This habitat is globally rare and some say is more threatened than tropical rainforest. The green areas on the map below show just how rare it is.
Credit: Maphobbyist / Wikimedia*
Ideal conditions for this habitat are found in the UK along the western seaboard. The key areas include:
- West coast of Scotland
- North and west Wales
- parts of Northern Ireland.
Each site is unique and special. For example, the biodiversity of rainforests in south west England differ to those in north west Scotland.
What wildlife do our rainforests support?
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. It literally looks like the lungs of the forest. Many specialist lichens of UK rainforests are associated with the climatic conditions in these areas, like the rare ‘blackberries-in-custard’ lichen, Pyrenula hibernica. It’s a ‘crustose’ lichen, pressed tight to the smooth bark of trees like hazel, and characteristically splits the bark.
Credit: Alastair Hotchkiss / WTML
But the richness of lichens in these parts of the UK is also partly because the western extremities have been least affected by air pollution historically. Tree lungwort would once have occurred all across western Europe.
Our rainforests are also home to lots of other rare and interesting wildlife, including:
- hazel gloves fungus, Hypocreopsis rhododendri, a conservation priority species
- migrant birds such as pied flycatcher, wood warbler, redstart and tree pipit
- butterflies like the chequered skipper.
UK rainforests are threatened
The rainforest was once a well-used resource, providing timber, charcoal and tannin for tanning leather. But our rainforest is threatened. It has suffered long term declines through clearances, chronic overgrazing, and conversion to other uses. This has left a small and fragmented resource.
The two major threats continuing to impact our rainforests are:
- 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’. 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 our rainforest also reduces its resilience against other threats, such as pests, diseases and climate change.
Visit UK rainforest
We care for several rainforest sites in the UK. Here are a few of the best – like all our woods, they’re always open and free for you to explore.
Crinan Wood, Argyll & Bute, Scotland
The moist, mild climate here creates a temperate rainforest of ancient Atlantic oakwood, dripping with rare fern, moss and lichen. The site is brimming with wildlife, including the iconic red squirrel. With sweeping vistas across Loch Crinan, it’s one of our must-see gems.
Look out for: three of ‘Scotland’s Big Five’ iconic wild animals: red squirrel, red deer and harbour seal. Other species to look out for include bats, beaver, otter, osprey and pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly.
Credit: Niall Benvie / WTML
Coed Felenrhyd & Llennyrch, Gwynedd, Wales
This site has an extraordinary surviving fragment of rainforest at its heart and is internationally important for lichen conservation. The steep banks of the Afon Prysor are thought to have been wooded for thousands of years. It’s a magical place with a real rainforest feel, alive with mosses and filmy-ferns festooning gnarled oaks.
Look out for: the steep sides of the ravine cloaked in woodland which supports a rich community of bryophytes and lichens. These include rainforest specialists like the barnacle lichen, Thelotrema petractoides, and acid-bark specialists like Parmelinopsis horrescens. Rare rainforest mosses like the prostrate signal-moss, Sematophyllum demissum, cling to rocks in the ravine. In the British Isles, this species is only found in North Wales and parts of south west Ireland.
Credit: Philip Formby / WTML
Ausewell Wood, Devon, England
Ausewell is like a lost world, its 342 acres of raw beauty a haven for wildlife. Wild, rugged wood and heath is dotted by dramatic rocky outcrops, boulders and screes. Dense woodland and damp temperate rainforest lie along the famous River Dart. Part of the Trust’s trio of wooded valleys in Dartmoor - alongside Fingle Woods and Bovey Valley Woods - we’re working with the National Trust to protect and restore the wonderful habitats and wildlife here.
Look out for: royal fern, pied flycatcher and ancient woodland molluscs like the ash-black slug – the largest slug species in the world! Ausewell supports different species to rainforest further north, including:
- barbastelle bats
- southern red wood ants
- string-of-sausages lichen, Usnea articulata.
Credit: Philip Formby / WTML
How you can help
It’s not too late to reverse the decline and save our rainforest. Pay a visit, absorb the atmosphere and help raise awareness of these special places and the need to protect them.
You can also help our work to restore amazing sites like Ausewell. Bringing woods like this back to their former glory is an enormous task. Every donation is vital if we're to realise the wood's full potential.
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