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British Rainforests: Campaigners Fight for Rare Ecosystems

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

Aimee Jones explores how campaigners are finding new ways to bring back Britain’s ancient rainforests.

Photo by Jacob Colvin


An ecosystem is a geographic area in which various elements come together to create a ‘bubble of life’: animals, plants, weather and landscapes. Campaigners are fighting for the protection and growth of rare ecosystems within Britain - including temperate rainforests.

Temperate rainforests occur in areas that experience a high volume of rain, often as a result of being within an oceanic climate. They are home to damp woodlands, within which some plants are able to grow upon other plants (known as ‘Epiphytes’). In areas such as this, you are also likely to find a large presence of various mosses and lichens.

Britain once supported large expanses of temperate rainforests, mainly across the west upland areas of the country. Many of these areas were destroyed thousands of years ago by Bronze Age settlers as they cleared spaces for their farmlands. More recently, some of these areas have been turned into timber plantations, leaving only a small, rare portion of them alive today.



Temperate Forests in the UK Today

Christopher Ellis mapped out the areas of Britain within which temperate rainforests can survive. However, just because these areas hold the potential for thriving rainforests, it does not mean that they are currently thriving. While 20% of Britain has a climate that is suitable for the growth of temperate rainforests, only 1% of these areas are still home to such beautiful ecosystems.

Until fairly recently, these little fragments of temperate rainforests had lay forgotten, with many people simply considering them ‘woods’. Nevertheless, a campaign to restore these ‘green cathedrals’ was recently supported by the Government, indicating a renewed appreciation for the diversity of British ecology.


Guy Shrubsole, a nature writer and campaigner, was determined to find the surviving British rainforests. As he argues, “knowing where the rainforests are is a crucial part of knowing how to save them.” In order to do this, Shrubsole approached the public and asked them to submit any locations where they had come across temperate rainforests, along with any pictures of the areas. People can submit their findings via the website LostRainforestsOfBritain.org.



Two Ways to Restore Temperate Rainforests

In order to restore these rare ecosystems, it is important to research their survival and take things slowly. Sarah Stirling researched Britain’s rainforests and found that there are a number of things that can be done to try and save them.

One of the tactics involves establishing a healthy balance of grazing in those areas. Too little grazing can cause the fast-growing plants to take over the rainforests, causing other plants and organisms to die; too much grazing, on the other hand, can impact on the regrowth of the rainforests by not allowing the plants enough time to spread and thrive. Therefore, it is important to manage the amount of sheep and cows within these areas to promote a healthy level of regrowth and maintenance.

Another tactic is to eradicate the plant known as Rhododendrons. These plants are known to thrive within woodland areas. As pretty as these plants may be to the human eye, however, they are actually rather toxic to other areas of wildlife: Rhododendrons cause harm by changing the acidity within the soil, thereby causing a stunt in their growth or killing them altogether.

A group of students are working together to try and eradicate Rhododendrons and save the growth of temperate rainforests. However, the eradication of these shrubs can take many years to complete. Patience and commitment is, as such, required for this process, with the students having to return frequently to remove the shrubs from the woodlands and surrounding areas to prevent further spreading.

Most of the work that has been carried out so far has been within Scotland and Wales. There have been campaigns to protect and restore their temperate rainforests: for example, Scotland currently have two projects underway with an additional four in the pipeline, ready to go. Celtic Rainforests Wales are following closely behind. Campaigners are continuing to fight for similar projects to be carried out throughout Britain.


 

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