Also known as Atlantic or Celtic rainforest, this special habitat is incredibly rare. In fact, it's thought to be more threatened than tropical rainforest. Its lush conditions are perfect for scarce plants, lichens and fungi, as well as a number of unusual animals.
Credit: Jordan Mansfield / WTML
Credit: Gordo Rothero
Credit: Niall Benvie / WTML
The climatic conditions required to form rainforest occur over less than 1% of the planet.
What is temperate rainforest?
Otherwise known as Atlantic woodland, temperate rainforest is found in areas subject to the influence of the sea (places with 'high oceanicity'). These places have high rainfall and humidity and a low annual variation in temperature.
Where is temperate rainforest found?
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*
In the UK
Ideal conditions for temperate rainforest are found along the UK's western seaboard, including:
- West coast of Scotland
- North and west Wales
- parts of Northern Ireland.
Even within the UK, the location of this kind of woodland can 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.
Visit UK rainforest
We care for a number of special rainforest sites across the UK, all free for you to explore and enjoy.
The richness of lichens in these parts of the UK is partly because the western extremities have been least affected by air pollution historically. Tree lungwort would once have occurred all across western Europe.
Temperate rainforest wildlife
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.
Credit: Alastair Hotchkiss / WTML
Temperate rainforests are particularly good for 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. Then there's the rare ‘blackberries-in-custard’ lichen (Pyrenula hibernica, pictured), a ‘crustose’ lichen which presses tight to the smooth bark of trees like hazel, and characteristically splits the bark.
Credit: Jan Hamilton / Lorn Natural History Group
A number of rare and threatened species of fungi call temperate rainforest home. Some are not just rare in the UK, but are also globally scarce. Hazel gloves fungus (Hypocreopsis rhododendri) is a conservation priority species that almost exclusively grows on old hazel trees. It's a sure sign of clean air and a wood's ancient origins.
Credit: Andy Sands / naturepl.com
Migrant birds such as pied flycatcher, wood warbler, redstart and tree pipit thrive in the insect-rich conditions temperate rainforests offer, flying here to breed each summer. In the UK, the rare chequered skipper butterfly is also only found in the mild, damp and grassy habitats at the woodland edges of rainforest in western Scotland.
Threats to temperate rainforest
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 major threats continuing to impact our rainforests are:
- invasive species
- disease like ash dieback
- high levels of grazing, primarily from deer
- uncertainty over how rural areas and woods in particular will be supported in the future.
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.
Saving Scotland's rainforest
We're working to ensure Scotland’s rainforests thrive once again. As part of the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest, we're on a mission to protect and enhance this globally important habitat for the special wildlife that depends upon it.Discover how we're making a difference
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.