The rare rainforests of Scotland in urgent rescue bid

Some of Scotland’s largest nature conservation organisations are joining forces to save the country’s dwindling rainforests.

Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) growing beside the mountain trail at Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, April 2015.
©Lorne Gill/SNH
Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) growing beside the mountain trail at Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, April 2015. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Members of the Atlantic Woodland Alliance will gather at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh today for the launch of a report outlining the current condition of the rare woodlands.

Adam Harrison of Woodland Trust Scotland said: “Scotland’s rainforest is just as lush and just as important as tropical rainforest, but is even rarer.

“It is found along the West Coast and on the inner isles and is a unique habitat of ancient native oak, birch, ash, pine and hazel woodlands and includes open glades and river gorges.

“Our rainforest relies on mild, wet and clean air coming in off the Atlantic, and is garlanded with a spectacular array of lichens, fungi, mosses, liverworts and ferns.  Many are nationally and globally rare and some are found nowhere else in the world.”


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A good example of this habitat could contain more than 200 different species of bryophytes, such as the deceptive featherwort and the greater fork moss, and more than 150 different species of lichen such as tree lungwort and golden specklebelly.

Chris Ellis from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, which is hosting the launch, said: “This habitat was once found all along Europe’s Atlantic coast, but it has dwindled over thousands of years due to clearance and air pollution from steady industrialisation.  The west coast of Scotland has suffered less from these pressures and is now one of the last strongholds of Europe’s rainforest.”

The new report reveals that there is as little as 30,325 hectares of rainforest left in Scotland. The remnant oak, birch, ash, native pine and hazel woodlands are small, fragmented and isolated from each other. They are over mature and often show little or no regeneration. They are in danger of being lost forever.


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• Almost all of the rainforest is over-grazed to a degree that will prevent it from re-growing.

• Invasive rhododendron can be found in 40 per cent of rainforest sites where it threatens to choke the woodlands and prevent the distinctive rainforest flora from surviving.

• One in every five sites have been planted up with exotic conifer plantations which lower their value as rainforest habitat.

• Ash dieback threatens the future of Scotland’s northernmost and westernmost ash woods.


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• Climate change and air pollution are set to decimate the last refuge for the rare plants that make the rainforest so special to us and the rest of the world.

Gordon Gray Stephens, representing the Community Woodlands Association, said: “It’s not too late to take action.

“Our vision for regenerating Scotland’s rainforest is clear: we need to make it 
larger, in better condition, 
and with improved connections between people and woods. Coming together as an alliance can help to make this happen.”

The alliance is made up of Butterfly Conservation Scotland, the Community Woodlands Association, Forestry and Land Scotland, Future Woodlands Scotland, John Muir Trust, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, the National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Forestry, Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Trees for Life and the Woodland Trust Scotland.