When people think of rainforests they tend to think of tropical ones such as the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. Not many people realise that that you can have temperate rainforests and that just as the tropical varieties are currently being cleared by unscrupulous governments and commercial organisations, so to did most of the temperate rainforests suffer a very similar fate although hundreds if not thousands of years ago.
Britain itself used to have vast areas of not just forest but rainforest and a few remnants can still be found such as in Wistman’s Wood in Devon which is a truly ancient relic of what was once commonplace and now the government is putting together plans to begin the epic task of restoring them.
Around 20 per cent of Britain has a climate wet and warm enough for the creation of temperate rainforest, recognised by their abundance of mosses, lichens and epiphytes – plants that grow on other plants and are sustained by the amount of moisture in the air.
But only around 1 per cent of the country is still home to this original rainforest. Much of it was cut down thousands of years ago by Bronze Age settlers, as they started to move through the countryside to clear land for farmland which in that respect differentiate them from contemporary loggers in that they didn’t know any better and in their own way only cleared land necessary to sustain themselves rather than simply get rich and exploit the planet.
The best conditions for temperate rainforest, and where the remaining fragments can be found, are in the west of the UK, thanks to its combination of frequent rainfall and milder weather.
Among the remaining fragments includes Wistman’s Wood, in Devon, one of the country’s best known areas of rainforest, believed to be the origin of Dartmoor’s “Wisht Hounds” which inspired Arthur Conan Doyle. There are over 100 species of lichen in Wistman’s Woods alone.
Other areas where rainforest may once have occurred include the Lake District, parts of upland Wales, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor.
Increasing the amount of temperate rainforest could bring significant benefits in terms of the plant biodiversity, but also by protecting rare insect and animal species such as the Blue Ground Beetle, which is found on the edge of Dartmoor.
Just like the tropical jungles, Temperate rainforests are globally important and highly biodiverse habitats and plans are now being created to plant and regenerate trees in ecosystems which are home to England’s temperate rainforests and can expand and protect these precious habitats.
One of the problems facing the expansion and even survival of the ancient rainforests is that it very hard for them to regrow because of other factors like over grazing, whether by livestock or by the number of deer that are in our countryside…. something which is made worse by the eradication of Alpha predators such as wolves, centuries ago.
You only have to go to some of these ancient woods in the SW, Lake District or Western Scotland to see just how different and primordial they seem in comparison to the beautiful by dry woods of SE England.