CONSERVATIONISTS are battling to safeguard a cornucopia of rare plant life that depends on the mild, damp climate of Scotland’s west coast.
The country’s Atlantic woodlands, also known as Celtic rainforests, are home to many globally scarce mosses and lichens – and some that are unique to Scotland.
Occurring only on the western coasts of Scotland, Wales and Ireland, these temperate forests are home to some of the earliest known land plants, which first appeared around 400 million years ago.
Scottish forests are internationally important because of the vast number of species they support – one woodland in Argyll is home to a quarter of all mosses and liverworts found in the UK, with as many as 200 species inhabiting a single ravine near Knapdale.
But these forests have been under increasing threat from invasive alien species, fragmentation and poor management. Now a new two-year project aims to restore the habitat and ensure survival of these rare native plants.
Conservationists are working with land managers, recruiting volunteers and monitoring areas to assess the health of the woodlands.
They have mapped core areas and identified what they call “zones of opportunity”, where isolated strands of the forests can be extended and linked to increase resilience. There is also an effort to eradicate rhododendron, introduced in Victorian times, which outcompetes native species.
As part of the scheme, Plantlife Scotland has launched Secrets of the Celtic Rainforest, a programme of educational family events.
It has earmarked 20 sites where members of the public can go to discover the huge diversity of plants, trees and lichens on their doorstep.
The charity’s Polly Phillpot said: “Because these plants are so small … they can get forgotten. But if you look more closely you realise just how intricate and beautiful these plants are – a rainforest in miniature.
“And the great thing about lichens and mosses is that they are not seasonal, so people can search them out at any time of year.”