From the string-of-sausage lichen to the fish-smelling ‘stinky’ sticta lichen, the secret world of Britain’s rainforests is remarkable.

Whilst the Amazon’s tropical rainforest is a household name, not as many know about the damp, lush rainforests we have here at home on our western shores.

Also known as Atlantic or Celtic rainforest, this special habitat, pockets of which are found in the west of Scotland and Wales, Lake District and into south west England, is incredibly rare. In fact, it's thought to be more threatened than tropical rainforests.

Britain's rainforests, which used to cover a fifth of Britain but now cover just 1 per cent, range from mountains to lowlands and have an array of diversity and they are facing catastrophic threats. Many are choked with non-native conifers, rhododendron ponticum and cherry laurel.

They are being damaged by over grazing , and climate change is taking its toll on moisture levels. Air pollution is killing the fragile lichens and bryophytes, and tree disease is decimating the diverse canopy.

The Woodland Trust is highlighting the plight of its special rainforests to coincide with World Rainforest Day*.

Eleanor Lewis, the Woodland Trust’s rainforest lead in the south west, said:

“A healthy temperate rainforest is perfect for scarce plants, lichens and fungi, as well as remarkable birds and mammals. Such strange species lurk there like the Graphis scripta, or script lichen which literally looks like hieroglyphics, and Lobaria pulmonaria tree lungwort , which looks like the inside of lungs and was thought to be a treatment for lung ailments by Anglo Saxons/medieval peoples.

“A good example of this habitat could contain over 200 different species of bryophytes and 100-200 species of lichen. Unfortunately they are wonderful, rare habitats that are under a serious threat and Britain has an international responsibility to protect many of these species due to their scarce global distribution.”

Despite fears over the future of the Britain’s rainforests, much is being done on the ground to protect these special habitats. The Trust is part of the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest – a voluntary partnership of organisations committed to collaborating for the benefit of Scotland’s rainforest - and a similar alliance in its infancy in the south west of England. The Trust is also pushing the UK Government to realise its pledge to bring the majority of ancient woodlands into restoration by 2030, which includes rainforests.

The Trust owns several woods on the western seaboard of the British Isles – from the lost world of Ausewell Wood in Devon to Cwm Mynach in Snowdonia, Wales and Crinan Wood in Argyll, Scotland, where remarkably 245 species of lichen have recently been recorded.

Lichens are in important indicator of the health of a wood, which is important as the Trust’s recent State of Trees and Woods reported stated that just 7 per cent of woodlands are in “good condition”.

Woodland Trust’s UK rainforest work is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People's Postcode Lottery, said:

“Saving the rainforest is a well-known cause but until recently few people realised we have temperate rainforests here in Britain too. They are as important as tropical rainforests, but more rare. Few people know they exist and fewer still know how globally significant they are. We are delighted that our players’ support is helping raise the profile of these precious places and helping the Woodland Trust work to protect them.”

Across the UK, several components influence the condition and species present at each rainforest site. The biodiversity of rainforests in south west England for example differ markedly to those in north west Scotland. Essentially the key factor in what makes a rainforest is the amount of rain it receives each year and relatively mild temperatures year round.

Six of Britain’s special rainforests

Crinan Wood, Scotland

With sweeping vistas across Loch Crinan to Duntrune Castle and the Argyll coastline, there are few woods with a more breathtaking outlook than Crinan Wood. This ancient oakwood experiences a wet and mild climate and drips with ferns, mosses, fungi and lichen. It is a wonderful example of Scotland’s rare and special lowland rainforest. The wood is also brimming with wildlife, including the iconic red squirrel. Crinan Wood is a must-see gem.

Ben Shieldaig, Scotland

Sitting in Strathcarron in the breathtaking north west Highlands, Ben Shieldaig rises from the shores of Upper Loch Torridon. There are stunning views of a rich and diverse landscape and for a chance to see the unique wildlife from golden eagles to red squirrels.

The site is home to two dramatically different ancient woods, survivors of a time when the west coast of Scotland was one big rainforest. One is a patch of ancient native birchwood. It’s a habitat dripping with mosses, layers of liverworts and lush lichens. The second is an area of Caledonian pinewood whose existence can be dated back to the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago.

Ausewell, Devon

Ausewell is like a lost world, its raw beauty a haven for rare and endangered wildlife. It is 342 acres of wild, rugged wood and heath with dramatic rocky outcrops, boulders and screes, dense woodland and damp temperate rainforest along the famous River Dart.

The Woodland Trust is working in partnership with the National Trust to protect and restore the wonderful habitats and wildlife at Ausewell Wood.

Bovey Valley Woods, Devon

This mix of ancient woodland and wildflower-rich wet meadows nestles in the steep-sided valley of the River Bovey in the dramatic Dartmoor landscape. Its abundance of wildlife fascinating flora and network of walks some of which are challenging makes it an enticing destination all year round. A well-known haunt for bird watchers, Bovey Valley is brimming with spring migrant birds, such as the rare Dartford warbler, the brightly-coloured kingfisher or the pied flycatcher, which arrives from Africa each spring to breed. The river is home to otter, salmon, brown and sea trout, as well as the rare bullhead fish, and Dartmoor ponies graze in the wildflower meadows.

Coed Felenrhyd & Llennyrch, Wales

A rare, Atlantic oak woodland and one of our largest woods in Wales. It sits above the Vale of Ffestiniog and is fringed by the dramatic waterfalls of the Afon Prysor gorge in the Snowdonia National Park. The site is great for bird watching - Ravens nest on the gorge’s cliffs and you can see dippers in the river’s fast-flowing waters. Woodland species such as jay are joined in summer by migrant birds, including redstart and pied flycatcher.

Cwm Mynach, Wales

This site, in Bontddu Dolgellau, Wales is a hidden valley running through the wild and beautiful Rhinogydd mountain range. Follow a woodland pathway and discover breathtaking views of lakes, streams and mountains while relishing the tranquillity of Snowdonia’s best kept secret.

Discover more about the Woodland Trust’s appeal to save our rainforests:

*Founded in 2017 by Rainforest Partnership, World Rainforest Day celebrates the importance of healthy, standing rainforests for climate, biodiversity, culture, and livelihoods— and convenes a global movement to protect and restore them.

Notes to editors

For more about this press release contact Andy Bond in the Woodland Trust press office on 07725480434.

About the Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters. It wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife.

The Trust has three key aims:

  1. protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable
  2. restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life
  3. plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife.

Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering approximately 29,000 hectares. Access to its woods is free so everyone can benefit from woods and trees.